The tightening of the border to keep new strains of Covid-19 at bay and demands to hasten the Covid-19 vaccination programme have dominated political debate – at least insofar as press statements provide a measure – in recent days.
Opposition parties have been much busier than the government – or have made much more noise – by releasing several statements on Covid-19 issues since Sunday.
But one of those, posted on both the Scoop and Voxy websites on 11 January in the name of National’s Chris Bishop, perhaps should be discounted because it is a repetition of a statement he released on December 28:
“The announcement today that from early next year all returnees from the UK and US will require pre-departure testing is a sound decision and one that the National Party has been calling for since August when we proposed a Border Protection Agency, National’s Covid-19 Recovery spokesperson Chris Bishop.
This would have made more sense late last year but not early this year, because “early next year” now refers to early 2022. Moreover, Point of Order could find no government announcement about returnees from the UK and US on January 11 to trigger Bishop’s remarks.
Our monitoring did find a statement issued by Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on January 12. This was to announce “a suite of additional actions” to protect New Zealand from COVID-19, including new emerging variants.
In the only other statement posted on the Beehive website since Saturday, Environment Minister David Parker announced $36 million of Government funding for 19 projects to help clean up and protect waterways and create local jobs.
Together with council and other contributions, the package will result in more than $70 million being invested in improving the country’s freshwater.
Readers have to wade through a few paragraphs of political bumph before they reach the hard news in Hipkins big announcement:
“Given the high rates of infection in many countries and evidence of the global spread of more transmissible variants, it’s clear that most global air routes will be of critical concern for the foreseeable future, and we must respond strongly to the evolving situation,” said Chris Hipkins.
“New Zealand is currently in a very fortunate position with no community cases – let alone of new variant types – but we take nothing for granted.
“That’s why we continue to take action, with very specific steps to further strengthen our response at the air border.”
Then, at last, he reached the drum-roll moment:
“Today I am announcing that passengers from any destination excluding Australia, Antarctica and some Pacific Island nations will be required to undergo Day 0/1 testing upon arrival in New Zealand.
“This expands on measures already in place for passengers from the UK and US.
“It will be progressively introduced at Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities over three days, starting from Monday 18 January. Routine Day 3 and Day 12 tests will continue.”
Hipkins also said he had signed further amendments to NZ’s Air Border Order which include:
- from 11.59pm on Friday 15 January, travellers arriving on all flights from the UK and US must have had a negative test result for COVID-19 in the 72 hours before their departure
- the Director-General of Health is now formally authorised to and will soon expand the pre-departure test requirement to all countries and territories excluding Australia, Antarctica and some Pacific Island nations.
Hipkins couldn’t resist more bumph (“New Zealand already has some of the most stringent border protection measures in the world” and “today’s amendments further strengthen that position in line with the Government’s overall elimination strategy”) before providing more hard information – the amended Air Border Order includes the following:
- Children under two will be exempt from pre-departure testing
- Passengers transiting through the UK and US for not more than 96 hours before departing for New Zealand will be exempt for now from pre-departure testing
- RT-PCR tests, LAMP and viral antigen tests will all be accepted for pre-departure testing
- All tests must be processed at a laboratory
- A hard copy or electronic copy of the test result from an accredited laboratory will be acceptable documentation of a negative test
- Upon arrival in New Zealand travellers will be required to produce proof of your negative test result to a Customs officer during your passport processing. Either a hard copy or an electronic copy will be accepted
Hipkins advised travellers to “work with airlines” to rebook flights and contact MIQ for information about their booking.
New Zealanders overseas who need consular assistance due to travel disruption should contact their nearest embassy or consulate.
The list of medical exemptions and exemptions for very young children has been extended to include people who can present a medical certificate as a past recovered case of COVID-19, if they are considered no longer infectious.
“In rare cases”, the requirement of a test 72 hours in advance may be extended to 96 hours if a person’s flight has been delayed or cancelled, or test results haven’t been received in time.
In this situation, the flight must be rescheduled or rebooked to depart within 24 hours.
Under the Order, the primary obligation is on passengers to comply, but airlines are also expected to play a key role in checking documentation where practicable.
From 29 January, arriving in New Zealand without evidence of a negative approved test or medical certificate would incur an infringement offence fee or a fine not exceeding $1,000.
Hipkins drew attention to the government’s covid-19 website, saying:
“We’ll continue to communicate details around the new requirements via covid19.govt.nz and Unite Against COVID-19 social media, website, the SafeTravel website, and directly to airlines.”
It contains just three statements this year.
ACT leader David Seymour has been harrying Hipkins more than the Nats, issuing four statements on Covid-19 in the past few days:
Seymour rebuts criticism of ACT’s proposal to make scanning into any premises with an official Ministry of Health Covid-19 tracing QR code compulsory for those people who haven’t switched on the official NZ Covid Tracer app’s Bluetooth capability.
Hipkins had defended the Government’s tardy vaccination plans by saying Australia hasn’t received its stocks of vaccine yet, and he believed both countries will receive them sometime in March. Seymour noted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s statement that vaccination there will begin in mid-to-late February, and he expects 4 million Australians to be vaccinated by March.
Seymour urged the government to make scanning into any premises with an official Ministry of Health Covid-19 tracing QR code compulsory for those people who haven’t switched on the official NZ Covid Tracer app’s Bluetooth capability.
Seymour called for urgent action to deal with highly infectious variants of the Covid-19 virus. A tardy response to changing circumstances could result in the need for another lengthy lockdown, which would set New Zealand’s recovery back by further crippling the economy.
Two statements have come from Opposition leader Judith Collins.
Collins said the government should urgently extend its Covid-19 pre-departure test requirement to all international travellers, not just those from the United Kingdom or United States.
In response to the threat to New Zealand from the highly-infectious strains of Covid-19 that are ravaging the UK and South Africa, tougher border protections should be put in place now to avoid even harsher measures down the road.
Collins called on the Government to accelerate the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in New Zealand, in light of the new highly-infectious UK and South African variants that are threatening our borders. After 31 cases of imported Covid-19 reported in MIQ on Sunday, while variants found in the UK and South Africa were spreading around the world, “speed is now of the essence when it comes to New Zealand’s Covid-19 vaccination programme”.
And today Chris Bishop has re-entered the fray to issue an up-to-date statement headed
He says the Government needs to change the way arrivals from the United Kingdom and other high risk destinations are being treated and it should adopt stricter rules in MIQ for high risk arrivals.
“The new, highly transmissible Covid variants seen at our border present huge risks for New Zealand. Community transmission of the new variants would be devastating and likely result in more lockdowns.
“We must do all we can to avoid this scenario so, alongside mandatory pre-departure testing for all countries, the Government should be segmenting arrivals depending on where they have come from.”
Latest from the Beehive
12 JANUARY 2021
9 JANUARY 2021