New Zealand's tentative border changes that will keep trans-Tasman families apart for a second-consecutive Christmas have been savaged as illogical and hypocritical by overseas Kiwis and public health experts.
On Thursday, Jacinda Ardern's government made changes to its compulsory quarantine hotel regime, known as MIQ.
International arrivals to NZ must now spend seven days in MIQ rather than 14, while travellers from Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Tokelau can dodge it completely.
However, many Kiwis in Australia - about 700,000 - were disconsolate to learn they would still need to win the "MIQ lottery" to return.
MIQ places are given out in randomised ballots.
As demand outstrips supply, tens of thousands of people have been effectively barred from returning.
Grounded Kiwis, a lobby and support group set up for the locked out, said the government's changes didn't make sense.
"For many who already have an MIQ spot, there was good news today: they will have a shorter stay. But what about the NZ citizens and residents who can't get home ... the stressful and dispiriting lotteries will continue," a statement read.
"When will fully-vaccinated Kiwis and residents be able to enter quarantine-free? They need certainty and they didn't get it."
The Grounded Kiwis Facebook page is a sea of anger and pain, where many go to vent their frustrations.
"A cruel unjust system rife with double standards, MIQ fees that still present a burden to those who are financially challenged, the lottery hunger game pitting one person against another," one poster wrote.
"And truly a lot of waffling about this and that. I'm currently planning to be locked out for up to another year. Hope not, but..."
The government is allowing hundreds of Kiwis who catch COVID-19 in its Delta outbreak to isolate at home.
A string of public health experts called out the illogicality of allowing that practice while overseas-based Kiwis - who are fully vaccinated and test negative - are unable to head home and do the same.
"I would have liked to see a stronger focus for those wishing to return to New Zealand who are double-vaccinated to have the ability to safely self-isolate at home," University of Otago senior lecturer Lesley Gray said.
"The many other New Zealanders still overseas trying to get back to families and loved ones have experienced many months of anxiety."
Nick Wilson, also from the University of Otago, said the dozens of cases in Auckland each day meant the government should change its approach.
"Given that the goal of COVID-19 control in Auckland is no longer elimination ... perhaps vaccinated people returning from overseas to just Auckland should be able to by-pass MIQ facilities completely and go straight to home quarantine," he said.
ACT party leader David Seymour joined the chorus, saying the government's announcement "means the cruel COVID lottery hunger games continue".
"Jacinda Ardern keeps talking about the team of five million. We're actually a team of six million, there are a million Kiwis offshore who will be crushed," he said.
"ACT would allow fully vaccinated people who have tested negative to self-isolate. If it's good enough for COVID positive people, it should be good enough for low-risk people who just want to come home."
Ms Ardern said the government will review its settings late next month.
Australian Associated Press