No more pre-departure tests for travellers to NZ from June 20

Source: 1News

Travellers to New Zealand won't need a pre-departure Covid-19 test from 11.59pm on June 20.

The arrivals area at Auckland Airport.

New Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall made the announcement on Thursday.

She said it was "safe" to lift the requirement much sooner than planned due to the Government's staged approach to reopening New Zealand's borders.

The country had not been overwhelmed with an influx of Covid-19 cases as a result, Verrall said.

The requirement to have a pre-departure test was originally meant to be scrapped by July 31.

"With cases continuing to decline despite over 387,000 arrivals since the borders reopened there is evidence this measure can now be lifted," Verrall said.

"Around 90% of international arrivals undertake their required testing once they are in the country, with only a 2-3% positivity rate. So we don't anticipate a significant increase in border cases once the requirement is lifted."

The Covid-19 Response Minister also said the challenges pre-departure tests pose to visitors are no longer outweighed by the public health benefits.

Verrall said travellers will still need to self-test on Day 1/0 and Day 5/6 in order for health authorities to understand what Covid-19 strains are arriving at the border.

Rule change for transiting passengers

Verrall also announced people transiting through New Zealand no longer need to be vaccinated from 11.59pm on June 20.

They also won't need to complete a New Zealand Traveller Declaration.

Travellers with Covid-19-like symptoms, such as hay fever, will also be able to choose between showing a negative Covid test or a certificate from a health professional stating they're unlikely to have the virus prior to travelling.

The maximum penalty for breaching the Air Border Order's vaccination requirement has also been reduced from $4000 to $1000.

"These changes represent important progress in our ongoing management of Covid-19 and our reconnecting strategy," Verrall said.

Tourism Minister welcomes news

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has welcomed the early removal of pre-departure tests.

A Covid test.

"It's positive we're able to safely remove pre-departure tests before the winter tourism season and the upcoming Australian school holidays. I know this news will be welcomed by tourism operators across the country," he said.

"The removal of the test means planning a trip to New Zealand is made easier and cheaper. So for those people overseas who have been dreaming of international travel, my message is simple: New Zealand is open, and we're ready to welcome you."

National says Govt has 'finally done the right thing'

National's Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop remarked the Government had "finally done the right thing" in "belatedly" scrapping pre-departure tests.

"This step will remove a barrier for travellers to New Zealand and will help boost tourism, business and leisure travel. It's a vital step in reconnecting with the world after two years of isolation," he said.

"Today's announcement is a good step forward and one that National has been calling for."

Govt needs to 'step up' domestic measures - Greens

The Green Party's Covid-19 spokesperson Teanau Tuiono said the Government needs to step up domestic measures to protect vulnerable communities.

"Minimising harm from Covid and other illnesses set to make a comeback in our communities must start with our tamariki and their families," Tuiono said.

The Greens are calling on Verrall to implement a Covid-19 action plan for schools, which it describes as being at "breaking point" due to illnesses.

'Great news' pre-departure tests scrapped - Auckland Airport

With 110,000 international arrivals at Auckland Airport forecast for the two-week school holiday period, the airport said it's "great news" pre-departure tests have been scrapped.

The airport said not having to worry about a pre-departure test ahead of flying into the country will "greatly reduce stress and cost for travellers".

Traveller arriving at Auckland International Airport from overseas (file picture).

"For an Australian-based family considering their July school holiday options, New Zealand is now back in the running alongside destinations like Bali, Singapore, United States, Canada, Thailand, Fiji and the Cook Islands, which have dropped pre-departure tests for vaccinated travellers," it said.

Mixed views from experts

Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank said pre-departure tests had outlived their usefulness.

He said they were a useful extra layer of defence in the past when prevalence of the virus in the country was very low.

"Pre-departure tests are costly, onerous, and don't provide any useful information about new variants.

"They're also not that effective at preventing infected people from travelling because anyone testing in the incubation period is likely to return a negative result."

Plank said RAT testing for arrivals is important for genome sequencing.

Computational biologist Dr David Welch also said the continued RAT testing of arrivals - and PCR tests if they test positive - is important in terms of "good surveillance" of variants entering the country.

However, Lesley Gray, from Otago University's Department of Primary Health Care & General Practice, said the scrapping of pre-departure tests adds another layer of worry and concern to those most vulnerable to severe illness if they catch the virus.

Gray said many of the vulnerable were having to "shelter-in-place" even more as protections were removed.

"Continued effective mask wearing is one of the most effective non-pharmaceutical measures we have available to most, and I urge the general population to continue to mask in public indoor spaces, on public transport and in retail stores."