'A real weakness' — Expert calls for overhaul in Covid-19 precautions for aircrew after new case

Source: 1News

Epidemiologist Michael Baker's calling for the Government to enact stronger regulations for airline crew after a staff member tested positive last night. 

The Air New Zealand worker returned from Japan, deemed a medium risk country, and had visited a Countdown supermarket last Wednesday while possibly infectious. 

They'd returned a negative test result upon arrival in New Zealand before returning a positive result yesterday during routine border testing.

While there's a low risk of ongoing community transmission, Baker says there needs to be an overhaul of Covid-19 protocols for returning airline crew. 

"I think the real issue is what happens when they get back into New Zealand and we've seen here this is a real weakness. Because with a single test they may been incubating infection like this person was and not picked up". 

Part of the issue, he says, is the lack of testing for staff before they're allowed to interact with the public.

Only staff who return from high risk countries like the United States are required to quarantine in a hotel for two days before being tested. 

"This does raise an issue for the difference in processes we have for returning aircrew and other people in New Zealand," he says. 

"Obviously, you're relying a great deal on their behaviour." 

While he doesn't think a longer quarantine period is necessary, the University of Otago professor does believe there should be a greater use of Covid-19 testing to weed out any incubating infections. 

Auckland having been in Alert Level 3 while the newest case was infectious means there's a low risk of the virus having spread, says Baker. 

It's also helped that airline crew were included in the first batch of frontline workers to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. 

Also appearing on Breakfast this morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that the case had been recently vaccinated. But it often takes a few weeks to come into effect, she pointed out. 

Baker says it's important to figure out how the crew member became infected, as they're only the third case recorded in a airline worker by New Zealand.