The new lottery style booking system for managed isolation and quarantine was overwhelmed by demand on its opening morning as 25,000 people applied for only 3,200 available rooms. 

NZ Initiative chief economist Eric Crampton said the lottery system has "solved nothing". 

“The reality is that there are still too few rooms and government has no way of bridging the gap."

Bookings for MIQ spaces restarted at 9am today with the release of room vouchers for the next three months under a digital ‘lobby’. The system will see returnees and visitors randomly placed into a queue and then allocated a spot when they reach the front of the queue. 

December bookings were filled within 45 minutes and wannabe travellers were advised to “leave the queue”.

Disappointed New Zealanders Ben Vickers and Brylie Henderson were both left well down the list, at about 24,000th in the queue. Others who missed out said on social media it was "like some cruel joke”.

Sam Melville, an Auckland University student on an exchange with Monash University in Melbourne, had been hoping to land an MIQ spot after she pre-booked an Air New Zealand flight from Melbourne to Auckland on Oct 3. 

But by the closing bell at 9:59am there were still 10,096 people ahead of her.

There is no limit on how many people can wait in the lobby.

Smooth? Not quite

“The problem is the amount of rooms we can allocate is linked to the capacity of our nurses and health systems to manage the numbers, not to available rooms themselves,” Crampton said.

He said it again highlighted the need to only allow “vaccine only” people to book, and to scale up rapid saliva testing both prior to departure and in MIQ itself. 

That, he said, should also extend to ‘at gate’ testing, which could see results within 15 minutes, free up space and provide a "much better picture" for government as to what was coming through the system.

“The booking system itself is a fail. Hotels are much better positioned to do their own bookings, and we’ve been suggesting they manage that process directly, with government billing them for support service, for nurses, police and army.”

Joint head of MIQ Megan Main, however, characterised the release as having gone “very smoothly”.

Main said this was “not a first in, first served model". 

"Everyone has an equal chance of getting through to try to secure a room.”

But she said the system isn’t a silver bullet and won't fix the issue of supply and demand. 

“There are still only a limited number of rooms available during the room release, which means that given the current demand there will still be people who miss out.”

She said there were still several thousand rooms to be released through to the end of the year.

The total operational capacity is 4,000 rooms per fortnight. In July, more than 9,500 people came through the facilities.

Of that, 350 rooms are set aside for urgent travel and those granted exemption by government. 

MIQ said that to Aug 8, it had approved 2,330 applications for emergency allocations. Each month, about 10% of rooms are also allocated to workers deemed as critical.

Melville, who has been in Melbourne almost under constant lockdown, said she would try the next window for booking. "But after that, I think I'll give up on getting back to NZ before Christmas."

Disclosure: Sam Melville is related to the author