Pre-departure tests across Australia 'certainly an option' - Covid-19 Minister

Rolling out pre-departure test requirements across Australia is "certainly an option", says Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins as the Government looks to if additional restrictions are needed as the Sydney cluster swells.

Chris Hipkins and Dr Ashley Bloomfield speak at a news conference

"It is one we will consider over the next few days.

"Pre-departure testing could be a useful tool, when applied in the right circumstances."

That decision could be impacted by other states' border arrangements with NSW. 

"There are likely to be changes to their internal border arrangements as a result of a lockdown in one state."

"We then consider the nature or number of any cases that were popping up outside of the locked down state (NSW). Those are all the things we keep under review."

Friday marked another day of no community cases in New Zealand, despite officials working on the assumption the Sydney traveller had the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus.

Hipkins said he did not want to preemptively make judgment, but said the results that had been received so far were encouraging. 

The picture was not so rosy across the ditch, with this afternoon NSW  plunging four areas into lockdown  as the cluster grew to 65, a confirmed case in Victoria linked to the Sydney cluster, as well as three community cases in Queensland  linked to the border.

"We keep a very close watch on Australia generally, we have a variety of different things we've set out in our trans-Tasman bubble guidance," Hipkins said today. "We'll be watching that very closely in the next 24-48 hours."

Sydney travellers in New Zealand

Meanwhile, thousands have entered New Zealand from Sydney since the arrival of a traveller on Saturday who tested positive for Covid-19, prior to the New South Wales bubble pause. 

On Sunday, 1,520 passengers from Sydney arrived in New Zealand, on Saturday 1,455 arrived.

More than 1,500 arrived on Monday, 1,200 arrived on Tuesday, as the bubble closed that evening. 

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said those who had been at locations of interest in Sydney (or Wellington) were already required to isolate and get tested.

"Everybody who has travelled to Sydney since their outbreak started has been emailed since their arrival in New Zealand. Those who have been in a location of interest in Sydney, and the number of those locations grow all the time, is required to isolate and get tested."

The same requirement would not have extended to the Covid-19 positive traveller, whose location where it was thought they were infected was not a location of interest at the time they were in New Zealand. 

New Zealand-Australia bubble

On the possibility of pausing the entire bubble, Hipkins said if cases were to pop up across Australia that would be a "pretty big red flag". 

Under New Zealand's framework, some of the criteria for a pause could depend on if Australian states had cases with unknown sources, likely linked to the border, while the state entered short-term lockdowns. For a suspension, it could require multiple cases of unknown sources with long-term lockdowns. 

NSW today only put areas of Sydney into lockdown.

"All of the states have a slightly different approach," Hipkins said. "NSW do have a very good contact tracing system and they do lean heavily on their contact tracing system."

"There is a degree of needing to look at the evidence as well. (New Zealand's bubble traffic light system) are broad criteria and then you look specifically at the cases."

Victoria's restrictions

The state of Victoria was already implementing restrictions a week ago on June 17 due to concerns about community transmission in Sydney.

Victoria made any person who had arrived from Sydney or the hot spot areas isolate until they received a negative Covid test – that included any person from June 11, a week earlier.

A day later on June 18, New Zealand's Ministry of Health deemed the risk as 'low'.

On Sunday June 20, a day after a positive Covid-19 case had spent the evening in a busy Wellington pub after a day visiting Te Papa's packed surrealist exhibition – the risk was low, according to the Ministry of Health.

At 1pm on Tuesday June 22 – the risk was low. 

A week ago, the Guardian reported multiple cases who had been at the Westfield Bondi Junction mall. It was clear last week that people with the highly infectious strand had been to and spread Covid-19 in large public places. Contact was described as 'fleeting', while a birthday party in NSW over the weekend has seen Covid-19 brought back into Victoria.