The Government has released the expert advice of the Strategic COVID-19 Public Health Advisory Group, led by Professor Sir David Skegg, on how to approach the reopening of New Zealand’s borders.
The advice, commissioned by Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall, suggests a phased re-opening of New Zealand’s border once the vaccination programme is fully rolled out, and sets out the preparatory work needed now.
The emergence of the Delta variant has altered both the advice provided and our approach to reconnecting with the world.
We need to do more to further strengthen our borders and bolster our health defences, including through the vaccine rollout, before we can safely open the border further, and that will take a little more time to properly prepare.
Achieving high rates of vaccination is critical to provide protection for individuals from being infected and becoming seriously ill. It will support a safe re-opening of New Zealand’s borders by protecting whānau and the wider community, by making it less likely that the virus will spread.
The Group recommends a phased approach to slowly admitting more travellers to New Zealand without needing to go into managed isolation or quarantine (MIQ), based on risk factors such as their vaccination status and the state of the pandemic in their country of origin.
The Group proposes these travellers would still be subject to a number of requirements, such as:
- proof of vaccination
- pre-departure testing, and
- rapid testing on arrival in New Zealand.
The Group recommends preparatory work begins now, including seeking advice on rapid testing at airports, and a strengthening of public health and social measures, such as:
- expanding health system capability
- expanding contact tracing capacity
- mandating QR code scanning at some types of venues — of which work is already underway by the Government.
Group advises we maintain our elimination strategy
The advice also confirms the viability of maintaining our elimination strategy as international travel resumes.
The elimination strategy, defined as a zero tolerance to new cases, has served us incredibly well in keeping cases of COVID-19 out of the community and stamping out cases when they do arise.
The advice confirms that maintaining the elimination strategy does not mean our border settings must remain as they are.
Provided that a high level of vaccination coverage is achieved, reliance on population-wide measures such as lockdowns can be reduced and the elimination strategy maintained through more targeted public health measures, such as testing and contact tracing.
According to the advice, continuing with our elimination strategy is not only viable, but optimal, as we re-open borders, and will be key to protecting New Zealanders and maintaining our future options.
About the Group
The Group, chaired by Sir David Skegg, is made up of experts in epidemiology, infectious diseases and public health, and has provided independent advice on our ongoing COVID-19 response.
Membership of the Group:
- Sir David Skegg, Chair
- Associate Prof Nikki Turner, Member
- Prof Philip Hill, Member
- Dr Maia Brewerton, Member
- Prof David Murdoch, Member
- Dr Ella Iosua, Member
- Rodney Jones, Special Advisor
- Professor Shaun Hendy, Special Advisor