Unvaccinated New Zealand residents stuck overseas

Source: 1News

A group of unvaccinated New Zealand resident visa holders are threatening to take legal action against the Government, saying they are stuck overseas and are unable to return to their homes.

Many are long-time permanent residents and residents of this country, who have lived here for decades.

Aucklander Holly Atkinson is one of the group’s 750 members, which calls itself “The Forgotten of New Zealand”.

The long-time permanent resident has lived in New Zealand since she was 9 years old, but travelled to South Africa in March. She was planning to return through MIQ after spending two weeks with her grandfather, who had been violently attacked in a home invasion.

“He was really badly hurt and I didn't know if I'd be able to see him ever again,” she said.

“So when it sounded like the border restrictions were easing, and it sounded like we would be able to come back via MIQ, we decided to take the opportunity.”

During their trip, Ms Atkinson discovered there was no pathway for her to return due to her vaccination status. She is married to a New Zealand citizen and the young couple have a house, a mortgage, a dog and jobs in Auckland.

While her decision not to be vaccinated was a “personal choice”, she felt the discrepancy between citizens and resident visa holders was unfair – with one able to return, and the other unable to cross the border.

“It's really, really tough feeling like I am basically shut out, so please, I would love it if you let me back in,” she said.

“If MIQ had said to us, ‘hey, you actually can't get back in, because you're unvaccinated and a permanent resident’, I would still be in New Zealand now.’

Lawyer Matthew Hague made the same argument in a letter to the Government earlier this week. He argued that there was “no risk” to changing the policy, as there are currently thousands of Covid cases in the community every day and all travellers are tested anyway.

“They have jobs in New Zealand, they pay taxes, their children go to our schools, many are on the pathway to citizenship and we're asking the Government to treat these people fairly,” he said.

“Every single international returnee to New Zealand has to provide a negative covid test before they enter New Zealand, and there's simply no justification for excluding residents and permanent residents, there's no risk from this group of people.”

Mr Hague added that the group would take legal action if there was no change, seeking a judicial review in the High Court.

However the argument is sparking debate; public health physician Professor Michael Baker believes increasing the number of unvaccinated people in the community would increase risk generally.

“In principle every extra person we add to New Zealand’s who's unvaccinated increases the risk of transmission of Covid 19 and any other disease they're not vaccinated for,” he said.

“In addition they run the risk they're more likely to wind up in hospital seriously ill and potentially occupying a bed that's needed for other patients.”

Others like Sarah Axford, who is the organiser of ‘The Forgotten’ group, feels the policy is unfair on permanent residents and residents living in New Zealand.

The unvaccinated Aucklander describes herself as “locked in”, saying she would like to visit her elderly parents in England but would end up stuck overseas.

“My concern is that I won't get to see them again, and for my son not to see his grandparents again is pretty horrific,” she said.

The Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told 1News he was yet to read the letter from The Forgotten group and wouldn’t comment on potential legal action. But he noted that border policies were under “constant review”.

“The public health profile of course changes based on the increased number of cases that we're seeing in the community and so on, so I think it is likely we'll see change there in the future,” he said.

The Government had not decided to make further changes at this point, he added – but changes could be “weeks or months away”.

“Overall we're moving to a point where Covid-19 will be managed around the world and that's going to mean international travel's going to be much freer than it has in the last two years.”

The debate continuing; unvaccinated permanent residents and residents left waiting to see if the Government will change its approach.