New Zealand needs to “turn the tap down” on the number of people coming in to the country who are infected with Covid-19, epidemiologist Michael Baker says.
With more people arriving every day into New Zealand with the coronavirus, the Government needs to take more action on controlling the border, the Otago University professor says.
“A big change is the virus is now more infectious and we’re seeing more people arriving in New Zealand in our MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) facilities. Our risk has risen, our response needs to rise up to this challenge to manage it,” he told Breakfast this morning.
He doesn’t believe the border needs to be closed to Kiwis returning, but says the number needs to be reduced.
“You actually have to think of the whole sequence. Looking at where infected people are coming from, steps we can take to reduce the numbers.
“We have to think about what’s happening at MIQs.”
Baker's advice comes as it was revealed a returnee who tested negative twice for the virus while in MIQ then tested positive while out in the community.
“We don’t yet know how this person was infected, but timing suggests most likely to be infected at the MIQ facility so we need to review what we’re doing there,” says Baker.
“I think we need to look at things like requiring home quarantine for a week because we know this has happened before.
“People who maybe get infected at a MIQ facility can then suddenly appear in the community after that period.”
Baker says New Zealand’s goal should be stopping infectious people from arriving at MIQ facilities.
“Because as soon as they enter New Zealand that increases the risk considerably to this country.
“The main lesson is to stop this happening because as soon as someone is out in the community that’s a big risk. You’ve got all these barriers to protect New Zealand and this is really the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.”
He would also like to see a change to the current hotel quarantine system, saying hotels weren’t designed to stop airborne viruses from spreading.
Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins defended the current MIQ hotel system saying the facilities had been “modified quite significantly”.
“The way they’re being used is very different to how they were being used as hotels. These just aren’t simply hotels, these facilities are being modified in the way they’re being used to reflect the different purposes,” he told Breakfast.
He does admit the air conditioning needs to be modified in hotels to improve their prevention against spreading the virus, but says this is underway as of “yesterday”.
On improving border security, Hipkins said they were looking at ways they could strengthen the border.
Part of that strengthening was the pre-departure testing.
“We’re doing the pre-departure tests now – that’s something that we can organise. But, nothing is going to be fail safe here.”