For most of the pandemic, New Zealand was one of the few places on the planet that had almost no widespread outbreaks of COVID. As we’ve discussed here in the past, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern managed this feat by locking down her citizens with some of the most restrictive policies imaginable. Both foreign and domestic travel were almost entirely eliminated and people were largely forced to remain in their homes except for essential shopping. The travel situation was particularly bad for any Kiwis that were stuck abroad when the lockdowns began. Even they were prevented from returning home in some cases, or they were forced to wait for extended periods of time. One group of citizens decided to challenge the rules barring New Zealand citizens from their right to come home. And this week a judge agreed with them, at least in part. (Associated Press)
During the height of pandemic restrictions, thousands of New Zealanders desperate to return home essentially had to roll the dice month after month as they tried to secure a coveted bed in a quarantine hotel run by the military.
On Wednesday, a New Zealand court ruled that the government had breached the rights of its own citizens by imposing the lottery-style system on them.
A group called Grounded Kiwis had used crowdsourcing to help fund their case against the government.
The portion of the travel restrictions that the judge found fault with was not the fact that people were being restricted from returning to their home country. The court found that such a thing could be allowed in the interest of preventing the spread of the virus. The rules as to how people were selected to be able to return were what violated the New Zealand’s Bill of Rights Act.
Anyone outside of the country and wishing to return would submit an application to obtain permission to do so. But nobody was allowed to simply fly into the country and head to their house. Returning Kiwis were taken immediately to a quarantine hotel run and monitored by the military. And there were only so many of these hotel rooms available in the country. To determine who was “lucky” enough to get a room in these quarantine facilities, the government set up a type of lottery system where names were drawn at random.
Perhaps Ardern thought that arrangement would be the most “fair” way to do it, but that’s not how it worked out for her people. The lottery winners were drawn totally at random without any regard for how long someone had been on the waiting list or any extenuating circumstances. So if you submitted your request to come home, you might be selected the following week while someone who had already been on the list for months remained waiting outside the country.
This legal victory may wind up being a rather hollow one for the plaintiffs, unfortunately. They weren’t going to court looking for any sort of compensation or reimbursement. They were just trying to get the policy changed. But before the court finally delivered this ruling, the government had already removed most of the travel restrictions and almost entirely eliminated the military quarantine system. So basically, the policy they were challenging in court is already gone. But if nothing else, they will have established a precedent that can be called upon if another plague blows into town and the government tried to hold the entire country hostage again.