The Horror & Necessity Of MIQ: At Home And Abroad, Nobody Is Living The Pandemic Dream

MIQ is a nightmare. It is also a lifesaver. Both things can be true – but that doesn’t make the situation easier for anyone.

A friend and I once joked that we could sum up our therapist’s best piece of advice by making merch jumpers that simply read: ‘Why can’t it be both?’ When we presented her with some piece of news or drama that was annoying/upsetting, funny/hurtful, ridiculous/infuriating, we would often try to fall on one side of the emotional spectrum. “Why can’t it be both?” was her response. It’s a dichotomy that works for everything. It especially works for MIQ.

People outside Aotearoa can’t appreciate how limiting, isolating and financially crippling lockdown is for a lot of people and a lot of industries. People inside Aotearoa can’t appreciate what it’s like to have mass graves being built in the city you live in, to hear ambulances run 24/7 in your neighbourhood. To see refrigerated trucks as makeshift morgues outside your local hospital.

People inside Aotearoa can’t imagine what it’s like to have to make massive life decisions, months ahead of schedule, in the gamble of getting home through MIQ.

People outside Aotearoa can’t appreciate how mind-boggling it can be to live in the same city as your family members and be unable to see them for months at a time, because they live more than 5km away from you, and how incredibly lonely and disorientating that can be. People inside Aotearoa can’t imagine what it’s like to have to make massive life decisions, months ahead of schedule, in the gamble of getting home through MIQ; a system that is like the stress of trying to buy concert tickets at TicketMaster, only you’re trying to get a ticket to see a family member before one of you dies.

So, when people complain about MIQ, it’s a ‘why can’t it be both?’ situation. MIQ is the reason that those of us inside the country got to have a summer break before Omicron lands. It’s the reason our death count isn’t in the thousands. It’s the reason that many of us still don’t know anyone who’s had Covid-19, and even less of us know someone who has died of it. MIQ has saved our lives.   

MIQ is also the reason that all Kiwis living overseas live in total, constant fear that someone they love back here might get sick and they won’t be able to get home to see them. MIQ is also the reason that all Kiwis living in New Zealand live in total, constant fear that someone they love overseas might get sick and they won’t be able to see them.

Nobody signed up for the years-long consequences that a pandemic has forced us all into.

Everybody lives on a knife-edge of what can go wrong, very quickly. Nobody signed up for the years-long consequences that a pandemic has forced us all into. Entire generations have started and ended in the years Covid-19 has plagued us. Oh, and we’re all getting older. It’s a lot to grapple with.

Earlier this week, my father had a seizure in his office during a Zoom meeting that my husband was also attending from our home. For 30 terrifying minutes, we watched as Dad’s colleagues tried to revive him. It was the most traumatic thing my husband and I have witnessed. For that half an hour, all I could think was ‘Am I about to see my dad die over Zoom?’ I’ve already lost a job in a Zoom meeting; I absolutely draw the line at losing a parent.

Even though my father’s work is five minutes away from Auckland Hospital, there were no available ambulances and the despatcher could not give any ETA. In the end, 35 minutes after calling an ambulance, his colleagues borrowed a car and drove him to the hospital.  

While we were driving frantically to the hospital from home, I was cursing a blue streak against the people who wanted to abolish MIQ and ‘open NZ up to the world.’

While we were driving frantically to the hospital from home, I was cursing a blue streak against the people who wanted to abolish MIQ and ‘open NZ up to the world.’ Here we were, on a sunny, mostly Covid-19 free day, unable to get an ambulance to a CBD location. It was proof, I ranted, that our hospital system was – despite everyone’s best intentions – stretched beyond belief. That people who argue to open up our borders are living on a different planet. We are not equipped for this.

But then later on, as we were able to drive my father home, I thought about the half-an-hour window where helplessly saying goodbye to a loved one over Zoom had suddenly become a possibility. I thought about all the families, split up across the world, who have had that same situation presented to them as their best option, only for real. They are not equipped for this.

Everyone deserves to be able to see their loved ones. And everyone deserves to be kept as safe as possible from a deadly pandemic. For now, it has to be both.

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