Families relieved as NZ drops five countries from ‘very high risk’ list

Corazon Miller
Source: 1News

Families kept apart by New Zealand’s Covid-19 border restrictions are relieved there will be one less barrier for Kiwi residents hoping to return home.

The Government announced on Wednesday that Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, India and Fiji would no longer be deemed “very high risk” from December. Only Papua New Guinea would keep the classification.

This means that from next month, residents travelling into the country will no longer need to spend 14 days in a third country and can do MIQ here.

The announcement is welcome news for the Dhingra family.

“It’s great news because it gives [my parents] 15 days of lesser journey to see their grand-kids and me and my sister,” says Dev Dhingra, a financial adviser based in Auckland.

He travelled with his parents to India a year ago to care for his sick grandmother.

“If my grandmother had not been sick they would not have gone, because they were safer in New Zealand at the time.”

As a citizen, Dhingra was able to fly directly back into MIQ here this week. His parents, as New Zealand residents, faced travelling through Dubai.

“We were really worried about how we will spend two weeks in Dubai. There’s a lot of exposure [to the virus] for both of us,” Dhingra’s father, GurPaul Singh Dhingra, says. “Without breaking the journey, it will be safer for us.”

The additional restrictions on returning residents were first imposed in April. It came after the Delta outbreak in India saw a halt on all travellers from the country into New Zealand. Citizens were eventually allowed to return directly, but not residents. Other countries joining India as “very high risk” in the subsequent weeks included Pakistan, Indonesia, Fiji, Brazil and Papua New Guinea.

But from December, the status of all – except Papua New Guinea - will be downgraded. Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced today that travellers from these countries will be able to travel here on the same basis as those from most other countries.

“The situation in all of those countries has improved remarkably since they were made ‘high risk countries,’” he says. “We’ve had some public advice for a little while now. We indicated we would make a decision on that public health advice as part of our reconnecting work and that is exactly what we’ve done.”

High Commissioner of India to New Zealand, Muktesh Pardeshi, welcomed the news.

“The redemption of travel will lead to economic recovery as well as dealing with social wellbeing. There has been so much devastation over the last 18 months of this pandemic. We look forward to seeing the days of normalcy back.”

Epidemiologist Michael Baker says it is important that we regularly assess the risk posed by other countries as we continue to manage the risk of Covid.

“We do need to treat countries differently if they are having a very intense pandemic wave,” he says.

“At the moment, this would be countries in Europe where there’s very high rates of transmission.

“[India], as we know, had a very intense Delta outbreak earlier this year that swept across the country… but that has now really subsided.”

He says testing, vaccination and isolation requirements give good protection but New Zealand must be poised to act quickly if the risk changes.

“If we saw a new variant of concern emerge… it could be one that escapes protection against vaccines… We have to be ready to turn the tap right down.”