Health

New Zealand PM Ardern isolating, journalist case highlights tough COVID curbs

Ardern, in
self-isolation until Tuesday, took a coronavirus test on Sunday after being
exposed to an infected person. Results were expected later on Sunday or on
Monday, her office said.

Journalist
Charlotte Bellis said in an article in the New Zealand Herald that she could
not return from Afghanistan, where she had been reporting, after Ardern’s
government rejected her application for an exemption to gain entry.

“When
the Taliban offers you – a pregnant, unmarried woman – safe haven, you know
your situation is messed up,” Bellis wrote, saying she was trapped with
her Belgian partner.

Bellis’s
case has spurred a heated debate on social media about New Zealand’s strict
COVID-19 rules and its tough border controls, with some calling Bellis’s case
an example of bureaucratic “cruelty” but others defending the system.

Her Jan. 24
application was rejected because it was for travel on Feb 27 – more than the 14
days after application allowed for people needing time-critical medical
treatment, said Chris Bunny, head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine.

Bellis
received a response inviting her to reapply within the 14-day window and
contact the agency if she intended to bring her flights forward, Bunny said in
a statement.

He said the
agency wrote to Bellis on Sunday that she may apply under another emergency
allocation, for New Zealand citizens and residents in a location or situation
where there is a serious risk to their safety and their only option is to
return.

“Our
emergency allocation team keep a close eye on applications, and Charlotte’s
location of Afghanistan came to their attention,” Bunny said.

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Bellis said
in the article she had chosen travel dates outside the window due to a scarcity
of flights out of Kabul and to “give us time to appeal if we were
rejected”.

New
Zealand’s borders have been shut to foreigners since March 2020. The government
pushed back plans for a phased reopening from mid-January to the end of
February out of concern about a potential omicron outbreak, as in neighbouring
Australia.

A country of
five million people, New Zealand has had 15,910 confirmed coronavirus cases and
52 deaths.

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