Covid-19: New 'very high risk' category for countries

Travellers from four 'very high risk' countries cannot come to New Zealand under a new plan designed to reduce the amount of infected people arriving.

The New Zealand Government today introduced the new category of a 'very high risk' country - including India, Brazil, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea - to further bolster the country's defence against Covid-19.

Changes come into force at 11.59pm on April 28.

Countries will be initially designated 'very high risk' when there have been more than 50 cases of Covid-19 per 1000 arrivals to New Zealand from those countries in 2021, and where there are more than 15 travellers on average per month.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today that any case at the border creates addition pressure on our border and managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities.

"We have to provide a pathway for New Zealanders to come back... we would not restrict the right of New Zealanders to return home."

The accumulative risk to New Zealand from travellers from India has been looked at,  Hipkins said.

"From India alone, this is expected to reduce the number of potential positive cases coming to New Zealand by an estimated 75 percent.

"We are talking about hundreds of people who could be affected by this."

He said the new category was "not an easy decision" and will be continuously reviewed.

CHANGES TO MIQ SYSTEM

Most managed isolation and quarantine facilities will be moved to a group intake system, Hipkins said.

This will see a MIQ facility starting empty. Then over 92 hours plane loads of people are transported to the hotel, and once it is full - or after the 92 hours - the facility is locked down for two weeks.

The Pullman hotel in Auckland will be the first to receive cohorted arrivals, starting tomorrow.

Hipkins said more rooms in MIQ will remain empty because of the new cohort system.

"This is done purely based on a risk assessment."

"We've applied a formula," Hipkins said, adding that this was not a discriminatory measure.

The first assessment of high risk countries will take place within the next two weeks, Hipkins said.

The number of cases that have made it out of the border was very small, the minister said, but when there was more positive cases in MIQ this increased the risk.

Flights from India have been suspended for almost two weeks and Hipkins had previously expressed a reluctance to extend the temporary ban beyond its expiry next week.

A two-week ban on all travellers arriving from India began on April 11 after a surge in Covid-19 cases being reported at the New Zealand border, from people who had been in India.

This was despite pre-flight testing showing the travellers did not have the virus 72 hours before leaving.

India has now recorded the highest one-day tally of new Covid-19 cases anywhere in the world - and the country's highest number of deaths over 24 hours.

Mumbai Airport. Travel from India to New Zealand has been temporarily suspended from April 11...
Mumbai Airport. Travel from India to New Zealand has been temporarily suspended from April 11 including for Kiwi citizens and residents. Photo: Getty Images
Numbers of infected returnees travelling from the sub-continent surged in New Zealand earlier this month despite pre-departure testing.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health reported a new case detected on day 17 that was connected to a person who arrived from India before the travel ban was enforced.

It's estimated cases in India have almost tripled since the travel suspension was announced.

The world's second-most populous country is struggling with a second wave, raising more fears about its overwhelmed health care system. It has close to 16 million confirmed cases, second only to the United States.

Across the globe, countries are bringing in stricter rules affecting travel to and from India amid fears over the rising cases.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the number of flights between the two countries would be cut, while the United Kingdom has added India to a red list, restricting travel and bringing in hotel quarantine for all arrivals from India from today.

- RNZ and NZ Herald 

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