Updated: Jun 27, 2020
As you will be aware the NZ border is closed.
Some of you will also be aware that there are exceptions to this closure. The main exception being that New Zealand citizens and residents have the right to return to New Zealand.
The government decided to introduce a quarantine service to stop people from bringing COVID-19 into New Zealand. Generally speaking, starting anything new, especially under time pressure, and in this case, without it ever having been done before, is an enormous undertaking. However, there was no option and no time. New Zealanders were arriving home, quarantine was necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19, and hence a quarantine service was implemented.
As I mentioned in my last post, the quarantine service New Zealand implemented has not been without its flaws. Two travellers were allowed to leave quarantine early without being tested. Both had COVID-19. Luckily, these people were responsible, got tested, and immediately went into self-isolation. This led to scrutiny of the quarantine service. It is now clear that a number of people were allowed to leave quarantine early without being tested. Although numbers vary, it seems there were around 50. In addition, there were a number of travellers who finished 14 days quarantine with no symptoms and were allowed to leave quarantine without being tested (it should be noted that this is common practice in many countries who are putting returning travellers into quarantine). Also, there were instances when people who had very few days of quarantine remaining were allowed to have contact with people who had only just arrived in New Zealand.
When the issues with the quarantine service arose the government immediately made changes. The policy was already in place. The problem was a disconnect between policy and procedure. This disconnect was identified and rectified. In addition, tracing of those who came into New Zealand without being tested or completing their 14 days quarantine began.
Now on arrival in New Zealand, there is a compulsory quarantine of 14 days. In addition, there is a requirement to return a negative test on both days 3 and 12 of quarantine. Those who test positive or who have symptoms are quarantined in a different facility to those who do not. Isolation from others is also more strictly enforced.
These quarantine service lapses led to an increased level of concern from the public of New Zealand. Due to this, in the last few days more than 45,000 people have been tested for COVID-19, a massive increase from previous weeks. At the time of writing, no positive tests within the community have been reported. We have 14 cases currently, all returning New Zealanders and all in quarantine.
Figures I have heard seem to indicate that around 250 New Zealanders are arriving at our borders each day. When the borders are opened to foreign nationals again, this number will likely increase significantly. Luckily New Zealand learned of the quarantine service issues while relatively few people were arriving. Hence the likelihood of COVID-19 being allowed in is much lower than it would have been if the lapses had only been noticed after border restrictions were eased.
One thing is now clear: Quarantine services must be well managed and closely monitored. Due to this, I suspect that New Zealand is unlikely to open its borders to foreign nationals for a while yet. The quarantine service must demonstrate not only that it is working effectively, but that it has the capacity to cope with much larger numbers of arrivals than it is currently dealing with.
When foreign nationals are allowed to enter New Zealand, I suspect the government will first look at opening the border to international students.
If you are wanting to come to New Zealand, unless a vaccine is available, quarantine is very likely. What this will look like is not yet clear, but when it is, I will write about it in this blog.
Once through the border, you will find freedom here that you won't find in many places in the world right now. In addition, although the fear of COVID-19 persists wherever you are in the world, you will be in a country that has little to no community transmission. In other words, a great place to be.