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

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FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during an interview with Reuters in Wellington

-New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stayed in self-isolation on Sunday, as the country recorded 103 new COVID-19 infections and its tough border controls were highlighted by a pregnant journalist who said she was trapped in Afghanistan.

Ardern, in self-isolation https://www.reuters.com/world/new-zealand-pm-ardern-is-self-isolating-after-exposure-covid-positive-case-2022-01-29 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.

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.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by William Mallard)

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