A phased re-opening of New Zealand's border in 2022 is planned, but only once the vaccine rollout is complete, according to the latest advice from a Government advisory group.
That’s the latest advice to the Government from a group formed specifically to lay out the best options for reconnecting with the rest of the world.
The strategic Covid-19 public health advisory group led by Sir David Skegg has stated New Zealand's elimination strategy will remain viable even when we open up, but they’ve warned the delta variant means quarantine-free travel before high vaccine uptake is risky.
Slowly admitting travellers from outside the country without MIQ will become an option, but they should face certain requirements, such as proof of vaccination, pre-departure testing and rapid testing on arrival in New Zealand.
The group also cautions that the pandemic is constantly changing so any details of a phased reopening can’t be decided more than six months in advance and preparation must start now.
The report states that if there is a consistently high proportion of adults vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, any new clusters of the disease coming from overseas could be stamped out by targeted measures such as testing and contact tracing, though the capacity to do this must be reviewed and strengthened.
Less reliance on lockdowns is preferred, given some alert level changes might be needed in the future and too many of them risks decreasing public acceptance of the method.
Despite this reliance on high vaccination levels, the group couldn’t answer whether setting a target would be helpful for driving uptake of the vaccine, saying that was better left for behavioural scientists.
Not only is elimination still viable they say, but it is the best option at this stage of the pandemic, especially given our health system is still poorly-resourced to deal with any large outbreak of Covid-19.
The group has also suggested choosing a new name in te reo Māori to reflect the country’s unique approach to the pandemic.
First though, the group recommends fully vaccinated New Zealanders be allowed to leave the country for short trips without quarantine as a way of testing the system.
ACT were critical of the report and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, saying there was “nothing tangible” in it.
“She [Jacinda Ardern] said there will be a public forum. As usual, there will lots of words but no action from the Minister for Announcements,” ACT leader David Seymour said.
“The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has spent $250,000 on focus groups to analyse the Covid-19 response.
“After four months of the Skegg group and no information being made public – she wouldn’t rule out that her department hasn’t been focus grouping his advice.
“New Zealand is ready for the next stage of the Covid-19 response. Just don’t expect it on Thursday.”