Differentiating Kiwis from internationals at the border no longer makes sense

Not letting non-New Zealanders into the country for fear they will bring in Covid-19 no longer makes sense, an epidemiologist says.

Kiwis from anywhere in the world can return to New Zealand without having to go through seven days of managed isolation, along with their partners and dependent children.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker said opening the borders to international visitors, tourists and migrant workers needed to be looked at sooner than the planned July and October staggering dates.

”Very quickly we will be at the point where it doesn’t make sense to differentiate New Zealanders to non-New Zealanders,” Baker said.

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Of the 202,257 total active cases in the country as of Thursday, 116 of those are from managed isolation and quarantine. Of New Zealand’s total 286,750 cases to date, there have been 3495 at the border, and just 12 in the past 24 hours out of 22,495.

Infectious diseases and pandemic expert professor Michael Baker said there is no need to differentiate Kiwis and non-Kiwis at the border.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Infectious diseases and pandemic expert professor Michael Baker said there is no need to differentiate Kiwis and non-Kiwis at the border.

The outbreak has spread throughout the community, and those coming through the border are unlikely to be bringing a new or more harmful variant of Covid-19, he said.

“A lot of these restrictions are going to look unnecessary, they probably look unnecessary now,” Baker said.

“There are probably no circumstances where we need to distinguish between New Zealanders and non New Zealanders coming in to the country if they are all vaccinated, they have all had a pre-travel test, and they are all coming form similar countries.”

Right now, critical workers such as teachers and medical staff can come form any country.

Other skilled workers can also enter, however they would need to be earning at least 1.5 times the median wage – $84,240 a year. The Government expects this change will benefit agriculture and information and communications technology industries the most.

At the same time, New Zealand has one of the most intense transmission of Covid-19 in the world, with the United States government issuing a warning to its citizens about travelling to New Zealand.

Baker said it was unlikely travellers would be choosing New Zealand as a destination at this stage of the outbreak.

“If you were looking at New Zealand as a whole country you would say don’t go there at the moment. Your risk of getting covid-19 is relatively high.

“The rate of infection in New Zealand is getting higher than the rate of people coming in to New Zealand, so it is then reasonable to relax the requirements at the border.”

Baker acknowledged the delay in opening the border was an attempt to stagger the influx of people to avoid overloading the health system.

He said the lineage .2 – a sub-variant of the dominant BA.1 (Omicron), is not something to fear at the border as the variant was through the community and accounts for a third of all cases across New Zealand.

Jacinda Ardern announces changes to managed self-isolation.


Jacinda Ardern announces changes to managed self-isolation.

“The only virus we know of at the moment that we are trying to stop is Omicron, and it has got these lineages, but both of those lineages are circulating widely in New Zealand.”

Baker said New Zealand is coming through the pandemic in the best shape of any country, with just a few exceptions.

The most comparable countries to New Zealand’s responsewere Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong. While Australia and Singapore were further in to their outbreak Hong Kong was almost linear to New Zealand.

The big difference was the higher mortality rate, with Hong Kong having over 200 deaths per day, while as of Thursday, New Zealand has had 81 in total, with 34 of those directly attributed to Covid-19. Baker said this was purely because of New Zealand’s higher vaccination rate.

“The thing that New Zealand has been able to do is use this time to get high coverage of the vaccine and the booster. There is reason to believe we have uncoupled high hospitalisations rates and cases.

“People should stop saying this is a mild virus – it isn’t,” Baker said.

“The thing that is different is that we are highly vaccinated, and it is a very dramatic demonstration of the benefits of the vaccine.”

Once New Zealand is through the outbreak the next process will be learning to handle its continuous circulation at reasonably high levels, much like the yearly flu, he said.

“We are still going to be seeing 1000 cases for the foreseeable future, it doesn’t go away.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday Cabinet had yet to make a decision about reopening the border, but a decision could be “within weeks”.

The Government previously signalled a July border reopening for those from visa-waiver countries, who could skip MIQ if vaccinated.

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