An epidemiologist from the World Health Organization says it is likely people have arrived in some countries with the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.
Dr Margaret Harris said the variant was first detected in South Africa as a highly transmissible virus of concern due to the "number of new cases and where they are and the evidence".
"We're seeing that it is very good at transmitting. We're seeing it has been able to compete effectively against Delta in the populations that've reported it to us, so this is something we need to understand and look at very closely," she said.
Harris says imposing a short travel ban to countries already infected with the new variant could buy more time.
“Short travel restrictions enable a country to get ready to do all they need to have in place to deal with the threat. It buys a country some time.”
The Ministry of Health has confirmed they are keeping a close eye on the situation.
1News understands an announcement will be made later on Saturday around whether New Zealand will impose any flight restrictions from the affected regions. Currently, the European Union, the United States, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Brazil have imposed temporary travel restrictions from several southern African countries.
“There are reasons to monitor it very closely and carefully and to do the research to understand how its behaviour is going to impact us," Harris said.
She says countries like New Zealand, which have a good testing and surveillance system, should be able to detect the new variant relatively quickly.
“Testing and genome sequencing will pick it up very quickly and that’s good news.”
Harris says while the developers of the vaccine "have had this kind of scenario always at the forefront so they can make changes to the current vaccine should it be necessary" to combat new variants, "getting it into production still will take some months".