Thursday, April 25, 2024

New COVID variant prompts border closures

Nine southern African countries are being added to New Zealand’s ‘very high risk’ countries list following public health advice around the newly discovered COVID-19 variant, Omicron, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today.

This afternoon, a public health risk assessment was carried out to assess the emerging evidence and any risk to New Zealand from the new variant, the Minister said. This included discussions with counterparts in Australia.

“It was important that the Ministry of Health rapidly and thoroughly assess all the latest information from overseas, as it always does when there is a new COVID-19 variant or research,” Mr Hipkins said.

“A short time ago the Director-General of Health gave me his advice based on the public health risk assessment.

“The Government is taking a precautionary approach in treating South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique as very high risk countries to reduce the chance of Omicron entering New Zealand.”

The move means that from 11:59pm tonight (Sunday 28 November) only New Zealand citizens from these countries will be able to arrive in New Zealand.

“They will be required to stay in managed isolation for a full 14 day period and undergo testing. The extended MIQ requirement will also apply to those already in transit from these countries.”

“The newer model of 7 days in managed isolation and 3 days at home for other returnees will continue – there is still good evidence this model is safe and provides a high level of protection against the virus entering out communities.

“I am also assured by the fact that the numbers of travellers we get from each of these countries is low. 

“Our understanding of the Omicron variant is still very much in its infancy and we’re confident this variant hasn’t entered New Zealand – several hundred border cases have been identified in managed isolation in recent months and whole genome sequencing, which is undertaken routinely on all border-related cases, has shown that all have been the Delta variant.”

He said New Zealand remained in a very good position to prevent the variant entering the country and deal with it if it does appear at our border.

“Our MIQ facilities and frequent testing of arrivals continue to serve us well.”

“Given the evolving situation, a cautious approach is warranted. Adding these countries to the very high risk country register is an appropriate and proportionate measure as more evidence is gathered globally on the Omicron variant,” Mr Hipkins said.

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