NZ's 'proposed pathway forward' from Covid-19 to be released next month

The initial advice that could shape New Zealand's approach to the borders is to be released in about a month, as the Government looks to "refine" its border approach. 

A person checks in for a flight at an airport.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said today that New Zealand "has a pathway to locking in the strong position we find ourselves in today, and building a path to further reconnect New Zealanders with the world". 

Robertson said that restrictions at the border "will be with us for some time as the pandemic continues to evolve around the world". 

"But, that doesn’t mean it will remain as restrictive as it is now."

"We have also been working with public health experts and modellers on how we can progressively and carefully move to use the increased safety provided by vaccination to reduce our reliance on strict measures such as lockdowns and mandatory managed isolation and quarantine," he said in Auckland today.

He said there would be opportunities to "refine" the approach as vaccination rates increase in New Zealand and overseas.

He added Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would have "more to say about this in the coming weeks" and the Government's response to that advice would be released "so that people can see the proposed pathway forward".

"What I can say today is that our response will be based on ensuring our people are as protected as possible through high uptake of a reliable, safe vaccine while managing the risks of the virus entering the country through a safe, smart border."

Ardern said yesterday that given the amount of evidence and research emerging, New Zealand's "broad plans" would be updated regularly.

"Recently we asked our public health advisory group led by Professor David Skegg to support our next update with a particular focus on requirements for travellers at our borders, we very recently received the first cut of that advice," she said. 

"We’ve asked some additional questions but are preparing to share that advice in a public forum... in roughly four weeks."

Last week, ACT's David Seymour criticised the Government for having "no plan for New Zealand to move on from Covid-19". 

"Australian businesses and households can see how this thing ends, and when various freedoms return. Our Government either lacks such a plan or thinks we are unworthy of reading it. 

"We need a roadmap out of this."

Australia announced a four-phase pathway "out of the Covid-19 pandemic" plan. The first stage was to vaccinate, slash international arrivals to half, alongside a trial for some vaccinated passengers to complete their isolation at home.

Australian PM Scott Morrison also said that advice he had received showed seven days of isolation for a vaccinated passenger was stronger than 14 days of isolation of an un-vaccinated traveller. 

Phase two would see international arrivals return to normal levels, while a larger cohort would be allowed for vaccinated people. Morrison thought this could possibly begin in 2022. Phase three would see no lockdowns, no restrictions for vaccinated people and for Covid to be treated like the flu. Phase four would be a return to life pre-Covid, with testing before and after international travel. 

Last week, Ardern said New Zealand would wait to see evidence around the reduction of Covid-19 transmission as a result of vaccinations, before considering any changes to MIQ requirements for vaccinated travellers. 

While New Zealand had not put a timeline on it, she said "we've always said we want to look at the evidence of how vaccination reduces transmission and use that as a way that we can safely look to vary up what we're doing". 

"At the moment we're still waiting for some of that evidence, we saw unfortunately some of those who have not been fully vaccinated still pose a risk," she said in regard to the Covid-positive Sydney traveller in Wellington.

In a speech in May, Ardern revealed the decision-making factors in how the Government would choose when and from which countries New Zealand could potentially open to, and how the vaccination roll out impacts that. 

"The first question we are asking is: Do we need to have completed our vaccine rollout in order to open up our borders beyond the bubble arrangements we already have?

"Will people who’ve been vaccinated in other countries be able to come in even if we haven’t finished our vaccine rollout?"

"The answer is, 'possibly,'" Ardern said. 

She said the Government would be relying heavily on emerging evidence "about how effective vaccines are in preventing not just symptoms of the disease, but transmission between vaccinated individuals".

Ardern described the data available currently as promising.

"A recent study in the UK found that the likelihood of household transmission was halved where an infected person had been vaccinated, on top of the vaccine being 90 per cent effective at stopping infection in the first place.

"No vaccine is fail-safe," Ardern added. "We have had our own recent example of a fully-vaccinated border worker contracting Covid-19."

She said the second issue was Covid-19 variants.