Tall Blacks star Tom Vodanovich and girlfriend get last-minute reprieve to fly home from Dubai

A top New Zealand athlete feared he would be shut out of New Zealand after an emergency voucher for managed isolation was denied at the last minute, stranding him and his partner in a foreign country.

Tall Blacks basketballer Tom Vodanovich and his girlfriend Jade Mace are stuck in Dubai and were facing a six week wait after being turned away from boarding a flight home following a flip-flop by Immigration New Zealand over the couple’s application for an emergency voucher.

But after the Herald made inquiries this morning the couple were granted a reprieve to enter New Zealand on a flight to Auckland tomorrow.

“I don’t know what we would have done if we were stuck here. We were running out of options,” Vodanovich said.

Vodanovich and Mace, in their mid-20s, were desperate to get home and together with family back in Auckland and Northland, had spent a sleepless 72 hours trying to arrange an emergency voucher.

A new voucher allocation system set up in early October for managed isolation and quarantining of travellers returning to New Zealand, that became compulsory on Tuesday, is already fully booked until December 20.

The voucher system was brought in to manage capacity during the lead-up to Christmas because the Government said there were not enough health workers and police to cope with the number of travellers arriving into New Zealand who must complete 14 days of managed isolation to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Vodanovich, who has played for the New Zealand Breakers and debuted for the Tall Blacks in 2018, and Mace were two of four travellers unable to board flights to New Zealand yesterday because they did not have a voucher.

The couple were trying to return home after Vodanovich’s contract with a local team in Luxembourg was cancelled unexpectedly over the weekend because of the continuing increase in Covid-19 cases in Europe.

Mace, a personal trainer, said they moved to Luxembourg in September when Covid-19 appeared to be under control for Vodanovich’s career.

“There was an opportunity with a team there and the opportunities in New Zealand were fairly non-existent,” Mace said.

“At the time, we thought that Covid in Europe was getting better and that we would be safe.

“However it started getting much worse in the time that we were there and Tom’s contract was terminated and the team booked our flight back home, not knowing about the new restrictions.”

The pair were notified on October 31 they would be flying home on November 3. On November 1 family in New Zealand alerted them to the need for a managed isolation voucher.

They applied immediately for an emergency voucher and were permitted to board a flight in Luxembourg.

In Milan the airline rang Immigration New Zealand who approved the flight to Dubai. But in Dubai permission to board the final flight was denied in another phone call to New Zealand.

Mace said the situation was dire until approval came through because they were stuck in limbo, unable to return to Europe where lockdowns were due to begin, and unable and unwilling to remain in Dubai long-term.

Vodanovich said there was every chance they could be turned away from boarding Friday’s flight [Saturday New Zealand time].

“We are not confident in any of this system anymore, whatsoever.”

He queried why emergency applications did not take precedence over holidaymakers returning to New Zealand for Christmas and summer.

“Originally they said it was tough to get it because they were only letting people in on an emergency basis if their lives were at threat. Why do we have to be nearly dead before we can get in, when you’re letting in all these other people willy nilly?”

The Herald sent questions to Managed Isolation and Quarantine including whether making Vodanovich and Mace wait six weeks in Dubai for a voucher was akin to making them stateless, a situation Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised she would not do to New Zealanders when border restrictions were first introduced.

MIQ is yet to respond.

There were 7263 managed isolation beds, RNZ reported in October, with average vacancies running at more than 2000 every day at the time.

One person’s 14-day stay in an MIQ facility costs an average of $6472, excluding GST, though some of that cost is for food and transport, RNZ said.

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