Thursday, May 30, 2024

Extra testing for high risk returnees

An additional test for COVID-19 will be required for returnees from higher risk countries such as the United Kingdom from midnight on 31 December, Minister for COVID-19 Response, Chris Hipkins announced today.

“The extra PCR test will be applied on ‘day zero’, as returnees who’ve been in the United Kingdom or the United States during the preceding 14 days go through New Zealand airport controls, or on ‘day one’, after they arrive at a managed isolation and quarantine facility,” Minister Hipkins said.   

“This new testing will be in addition to the current day three and day 12 tests. The returnees will also be required to be in isolation or quarantine in their allocated room at a facility until their initial test has returned a result. 

“This means if the result is positive they will be transferred to a quarantine facility effectively several days earlier than under the standard two-test regime. The changes will be in force from midnight on 31 December.”

Mr Hipkins said the government had been monitoring overseas developments very closely, and, like many other countries, New Zealand had heightened concerns about the new variants of the virus and their potential to spread more rapidly, and the ongoing high rates of infection in some countries.

“We’re seeing asymptomatic people coming across the border who are subsequently picked up in day three testing, so this will pick them up as early as possible. It will also help us identify earlier anyone who sat close to them on flights,” the Minister said.  

“While growing travel restrictions are being imposed in countries that host airport hubs and by airlines themselves – which block routes to New Zealand for the overwhelming majority of travellers from higher risk countries – the New Zealand Government is taking this extra precautionary step to provide another layer of protection and to support our goal of making summer unstoppable.

“Our 14-day managed quarantine and isolation regime is providing one of the strongest border defences anywhere in the world.”

He said the additional requirements for returnees from higher risk countries would provide extra safety for people working in quarantine facilities and greater assurance for New Zealand generally.

Pre-departure testing for UK arrivals to New Zealand

“Keeping the virus out remains our biggest protection and as we’ve done all along, we regularly review our settings and make changes where they will make a difference,” Mr Hipkins said.

“Plans for pre-departure risk reduction measures, including testing for people leaving the United Kingdom for New Zealand, are currently being worked on, with a view to implementing them from mid-January. These include selecting the most effective forms of testing in the circumstances. Additional risk measures for other countries are also being considered.”

He said returnees would still need to go through New Zealand’s 14-day managed isolation and quarantine process on arrival in New Zealand.   

“We’re aware this would present an extra hurdle for Kiwis planning to return and we’re not considering this lightly,” said Minister Hipkins.

“We’re going beyond what we’ve done in the past, to stay ahead of what appears to be a worsening situation globally and, in doing so, we would reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading during transit and entering our managed isolation facilities. 

“An eventual safe travel zone with Australia and Realm countries will ultimately mean fewer people from lower risk countries staying in our managed isolation facilities, thereby allowing more people from higher risk countries to arrive. Additional offshore risk measures including pre-departure testing would help us prepare for the increased risk such arrivals will bring to our facilities and to incoming flights.”

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