News In BriefTourism

New testing and cruise ship ban instated as NZ enters “dangerous new phase”

The government has introduced new travel measures to keep the population safe from COVID-19 as the pandemic grows across the globe. Just one week ago there were no reported cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand but today, there are nine all in managed isolation after arriving in the country.

The measures follow criticism of handling of these cases in recent days and PM Jaconda Ardern faced pressure over what was seen as laxness in management of the border.

On Tuesday, Minister of Health Dr David Clark announced:

  • Regular health check and asymptomatic testing of all border facing workers
  • Regular testing of quarantine exempt people such as New Zealand based air crew
  • Testing available for anyone presenting to primary or secondary care with any type of COVID-19 symptom
  • DHBs required to regularly review and take actions to increase testing in population groups if there is significant variation to the national average in their region

He said: “The Government is stepping up New Zealand’s COVID-19 testing system at the border as more New Zealanders arrive from overseas.

We took swift action at the start of the outbreak to bolster our testing and our programme has served us well to date. With over 340,000 tests done to date, we have the highest rate of tests ‘per confirmed COVID-19 case’ in the world.

“The greatest risk for us now is the thousands of New Zealanders coming back from global hotspots so our testing strategy will focus on our border.

“The Ministry of Health is already testing people in managed isolation and quarantine facilities at days 3 and 12, and a negative result is required for the day 12 test before people are allowed to leave their quarantine facility.

“Under our enhanced strategy, priority for testing will be given to those who are most likely to have been exposed to COVID-19 which is our border and airline staff and those arriving back in New Zealand.”

These workers include:

  • Border workers in customs, biosecurity, immigration and aviation security at airports, and the people who clean at international airports or maritime ports in areas/conveniences visited by international arrivals
  • Staff who work in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, including those who drive people entering the country from the airport to the facilities
  • International air and maritime crew.

Clark continued: “Across the wider community, we will continue to test all close contacts of confirmed or probable cases.

Given the current low levels of influenza in the community rigorous monitoring of testing rates across DHBs will be required to ensure we have confidence in equity of access to testing and also to ensure an adequate level of community testing continues.

“Anyone presenting to primary or secondary care with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 will be offered testing even if they have no history of international travel or contact with travellers. This is important for surveillance purposes.

“To ensure our surveillance testing is appropriate and equitable, the Ministry of Health will rigorously monitor testing rates across DHBs and population groups and will conduct a weekly review of testing by each DHB and by ethnic group.

“Importantly, we’ll be requiring DHBs to take specific actions to increase access to testing for population groups where there is significant variation to national or regional average rates.

“The Ministry will also make clear to DHBs the Government’s expectation that there will continue to be a low bar to meet to obtain a COVID-19 test.”

He added: “We are confident this is the best possible approach, and the one we will be moving ahead with into the future. However, we will continue to review our elimination strategy to ensure it remains as effective as possible in the changing environment.”

This announcement followed news that cabinet were also extending the cruise ship ban.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “The government is extending a ban on cruise ships and updating its health order to make clear that travellers may be required to take multiple tests.”

The order also extended the cruise ship ban beyond 30 June. There are exceptions to the ban, including for cargo vessels to load and unload and fishing vessels to unload and resupply.

“However, any crew arriving in New Zealand would need to spend 14 days in quarantine in New Zealand unless they had been on the boat for 28 days prior to arriving. This is a tightening of the current rules” she said.

“Overall, you can see, that we are continuing to assure ourselves and the New Zealand community that we are doing everything it takes to maintain our priveleged position that every New Zealander has worked so hard for whilst the world enters into a phase where this pandemic grows, not slows.”

New Zealand is seeing more cases at the border because more people are returning home on flights from countries where the pandemic is growing.

Ardern warned: “While the world enters this dangerous new phase, we remain in a phase of border containment.”

Image Credits: ©Romolo Tavani – stock.adobe.com

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