New Zealand defends COVID rules denying entry to pregnant journalist

New Zealand defends its draconian COVID restrictions that forced a pregnant Kiwi journalist stranded in Afghanistan to turn to the Taliban for help, saying she had not met the ‘very high threshold’ for an emergency entrance.

Charlotte Bellis’ pregnancy would not have automatically qualified her for entry into the country in an emergency, despite living in Doha, Qatar, where it is illegal to be single with a child, have health officials told the New Zealand Herald.

“Pregnancy itself is not considered an emergency under emergency allocation criteria, but certain conditions during pregnancy can mean the high bar for an emergency has been reached,” Chris Bunny, national program manager for ‘Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ),’ told the newspaper.

Bunny said all applications for a place on the MIQ program, which helps its citizens abroad return to the country and self-isolate during the pandemic, are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

According to Charlotte Bellis, she did not meet the “very high threshold” for emergency entry into New Zealand and was forced to turn to the Taliban for help.

“There are currently 400 rooms per fortnight reserved for those who have to travel urgently. This is an option of last resort with a very high threshold,” he said.

“These decisions are not easy to make and we are sensitive to the difficult situations in which people who apply for an emergency allowance find themselves,” he added.

Bellis detailed her struggle to return to the country from Qatar in a searing New Zealand Herald op-ed.

Charlotte Bellis (right) poses in a selfie with her partner Jim Huylebroek (left) in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Charlotte Bellis poses in a selfie with her partner, Jim Huylebroek, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Charlotte Bellis via AP

She said she first tried and failed to win the New Zealand Citizens Lottery to return home. Then the government rejected his request to return under its emergency grant process to help citizens in emergency situations.

Bellis’ only option was to return to Afghanistan, where she still had a visa to work and live as a journalist.

She contacted some Taliban members she met while reporting, she said, and asked them if she would have a problem showing up in the country with her partner, a photojournalist, as she was obviously pregnant and single.

Charlotte Bellis
Officials say Charlotte Bellis’ pregnancy would not have qualified her to be allowed to enter the country in an emergency.

“They said, ‘Listen, it’s your culture and you’re strangers and it’s between you. Congratulations. We’re really happy for you, and yes, you’re welcome and if you have any problems, you can give us a call,” Bellis told Fox News in an interview Monday. “You can’t make this stuff up.”

She said she now lives in Afghanistan and plans to give birth in a country where the maternal mortality rate is appalling and many hospitals don’t even have electricity.

New Zealand officials said they were encouraging Bellis to reapply for the return.

Bellis went viral last summer for asking the Taliban at their inaugural press conference, “What will you do to protect the rights of women and girls?”

In her editorial, the journalist called the Taliban’s offer “brutally ironic”.

“When the Taliban offer you – a pregnant, single woman – a safe haven, you know your situation is screwed up,” Bellis wrote.

The Kiwi said she couldn’t understand how she couldn’t be admitted on an emergency basis and called the whole experience “surreal”.

“I mean we were stunned,” she told Fox News. “I mean, if I don’t meet the threshold…what about all the other pregnant New Zealand women in the world.”

New Zealand has been hailed for having some of the strictest COVID restrictions in the world and having lost just 53 citizens to the novel coronavirus.