Isolation for vaccinated travellers to be dropped this week
Jacinda Ardern says from 11.59pm on Wednesday vaccinated travellers will no longer need to isolate and vaccinated New Zealanders travelling from beyond Australia will be allowed to return from this Friday, also without having to self-isolate.
Ardern told Morning Report today that the latest advice to the government from epidemiologist Sir David Skegg and his team - who have been advising the government on how to safely re-open the border - had been received late yesterday.
Sir David joined Ardern at this afternoon's post-cabinet briefing.
She says when the government set out its plan, it noted that as case numbers increased, the impact of cases at the border would be less pronounced.
The strong advice of public officials at that time was that isolation was still needed for people entering the border, but there was a not too distant future where that would not be the case.
Ardern says advice from the group taking another look at those settings was presented at 4pm yesterday. The advice is being released this afternoon, and Prof Skegg is outlining it.
He says the MIQ system has been "a crucial factor in New Zealand's remarkable success so far in responding to Covid-19", but in weeks the pattern of risk has changed.
He says given the rapid change in risks posed, the group now believes it is appropriate to drop requirements for self-isolation for fully vaccinated travellers - both returning New Zealanders and tourists when borders are opened more generally.
Professor Skegg says arriving travellers should be tested within 24 hours of arrival and those who return a positive test should be managed in the same way as other Covid-19 cases.
"We recommend that whole genome sequencing should be carried out in those cases as a surveillance tool to detect the arrival of new variants of the virus. I think it's also important for us all to remember that this pandemic is not over, or nearly over. The virus continues to mutate and personally I would be surprised if we're still talking about Omicron at the end of the year."
Ardern says based on the group's advice, Cabinet has agreed vaccinated travellers entering New Zealand will no longer need to self-isolate from 11.59pm on Wednesday.
She says this decision was balanced with other factors - borders are still gradually reopening, and the government's staged reopening plan will remain in place to help stagger the impact on the current outbreak.
Every traveller will still be required to undertake a rapid antigen test (RAT) within the first 24 hours after arriving, and on day 5/6 after arrival.
Unlike others who test positive in the community, positive rapid antigen tests will need to get a further PCR test to confirm, and monitor new variants through genome sequencing.
All incoming travellers will also still be required to undertake a predeparture test.
Unvaccinated travellers will still need to enter MIQ. Ardern says MIQ will still remain a useful tool even if it is not used to the same extent as it was in the past.
Ardern says step two of the government's reopening plan - allowing New Zealanders and other eligible critical workers from the rest of the world - will also begin earlier than previously planned, from this 11.59pm this Friday.
Due to immigration processes, other non-New Zealanders who are part of step two of the government's reopening plan such as working holiday visa holders and RSE workers, will still be eligible to arrive from 13 March, but will not have to self-isolate.
When asked when New Zealand would open to tourists, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Checkpoint he was confident the border would fully reopen "in the next few months".
"You would have heard from the prime minister Covid doesn't work to timelines and dates and calendars as we'd like it to, but what we're signalling is as we come off that peak, as we move through March into April, we can then start to take decisions, based on where we're at with the health system and so on, and it will be much sooner I think than people have expected...to be able to see people coming into New Zealand freely from everywhere."
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