A new 'day zero' Covid-19 test for returnees from higher-risk countries such as the UK will be required from midnight on 31 December, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced today.
Hipkins said the government is also investigating new ways of reducing risk before people embark on travel, including putting in place pre-departure testing for people leaving the UK for New Zealand by mid-January.
The additional border protections have been prompted by new virus variants and ongoing high rates of diseases in some countries.
New 'Day Zero' Test
“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,” 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."
Hipkins said the additional Covid-19 test would provide a further layer of protection.
“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."
Pre-departure testing for UK arrivals to New Zealand
Hipkins said plans for pre-departure testing are currently being worked on, with the aim of introducing the new measures by mid-January for UK returnees.
“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.
“Returnees will still need to go through our 14-day managed isolation and quarantine process, on arrival in New Zealand."
The Covid Response Minister said the government was mindful of the complications this would create.
“We’re aware this would present an extra hurdle for Kiwis planning to return and we’re not considering this lightly.
“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."
Hipkins indicated that New Zealand travel bubbles with Australia and Pacific Island countries would provide greater opportunities for people in higher-risk countries to enter managed isolation in New Zealand.
“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.”