Bellis apology doesn’t mean MIQ was unjustified, says Hipkins

Former NZ Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins
Former Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins ... the MIQ application by Charlotte Bellis was deactivated in error. Image: Angus Dreaver/RNZ

RNZ News

Former Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says his apology to journalist Charlotte Bellis does not extend to the Aotearoa New Zealand government’s MIQ system generally.

Bellis, a New Zealand journalist based in Afghanistan at the time, had gone public in January with her struggle to secure a spot in the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) hotels while pregnant.

Hipkins publicly apologised to her in a statement this morning, admitting her MIQ application was deactivated in error and some of his comments about her case had been wrong.

He later told reporters there was no settlement payment involved, and both parties wanted to leave the matter behind them.

“We’ve concluded the matter. I’ve conveyed to her privately and now publicly my apology and she’s indicated she wants to leave it at that — and I’m happy to do that too,” he said.

“Right at the beginning, clearly there were a few things that got lost in communication, lost in translation. I do regret that and so my apology in that sense is a very genuine one.”

Hipkins was removed from the covid-19 portfolio just over a week ago, taking over police instead, with Dr Ayesha Verrall taking over the pandemic response.

Timing of the apology
He said the timing of his apology to Bellis had been agreed with her.

“She indicated that’s the timing that she wanted,” he said. “Obviously it would have ideally been better to have had this done before I gave up the covid portfolio rather than the week after, but ultimately MIQ’s been winding down now since February so I think everybody’s moved on from it.

“She indicated that she wanted something more public. I was happy to do that, it took a little bit of time to negotiate that and to get all of that ironed out.”

The National and ACT parties urged the government to also apologise over the handling of MIQ generally.

Journalist Charlotte Bellis
Journalist Charlotte Bellis … Hipkins said the timing of his apology had been agreed with her. Image: RNZ/YouTube screenshot

National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said if Hipkins could apologise to Bellis, “then the government can surely apologise to all the Kiwis caught up in the lottery of human misery that was MIQ”.

“The High Court has found that MIQ unjustifiably breached New Zealanders’ rights from September to December 2021. The government should do the right thing and apologise for the way MIQ operated,” he said.

“There are countless other examples that haven’t hit the headlines. Other pregnant women who couldn’t return home. Kiwis trapped offshore who watched their visas expire in the countries they were in. People who missed the deaths of cherished loved ones and the birth of new lives.”

‘Caught out spinning’
ACT leader David Seymour said the government was not apologising for the misery its policy caused, just getting caught out spinning it.

“The government has rightly apologised for spreading misinformation about a citizen’s personal circumstances, now it should apologise for running MIQ selection so inhumanely and running it four months longer than necessary at enormous cost to the taxpayer and economy,” he said.

He said then Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield had advised MIQ was no longer necessary in December last year, and the government should be apologising for the $178 million it cost to maintain through to March.

“Included in that period was Charlotte Bellis’ repeated failed attempts to get a spot, forcing her to seek refuge with the Taliban,” he said.

Hipkins said they were very different matters.

“In this particular case there were some aspects of the information that I released that were incorrect and so I absolutely have acknowledged that and have apologised for that. In terms of MIQ I will maintain — and the courts in fact have maintained — MIQ was absolutely justified,” he said.

“What the court did find … the way we allocated space in MIQ wasn’t right. We tried a number of different things during that time to try different booking systems, to try and make that system fairer.”

Not contesting court ruling
He said he acknowledged the court’s ruling and was not contesting it, but repeated that the system as a whole was justified.

“Were MIQ ever to have to happen again in the future then those responsible for it would have to find a different way of allocating space within MIQ — but MIQ itself was absolutely justified.

“It’s the reason that we were able to go as long as we did without having covid-19 in the community.

“It’s also the reason why over the summer break, people managed to have a summer break and were able to have that opportunity to get their boosters before omicron arrived in the community.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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