The Government is starting a phased easing of border restrictions that will see the time spent in an MIQ facility halved for overseas arrivals from 14 November and home isolation introduced in the first quarter of 2022 at the latest.
It is also expanding one-way quarantine free travel with some Pacific nations in the first step in the Government’s phased plan to carefully reconnect New Zealand with the world.
Reducing time spent in an MIQ facility for overseas arrivals
MIQ has served us well. Over 183,000 New Zealanders have returned home through MIQ since border restrictions were put in place last year, stopping cases at the border and allowing us to live life free of restrictions for the better part of 18 months.
When MIQ was introduced we did not have the vaccine so every arrival posed a high level of risk. With most people returning now fully vaccinated the risk profile of international arrivals has changed so it is time to start changing our MIQ settings.
Last week the Government announced a pathway forward out of lockdowns with the new traffic light COVID-19 Protection Framework that will see an easing of restrictions once the country is 90 percent vaccinated. Today’s easing of MIQ requirements is part of our broader plan to re-open New Zealand safely and reconnect with the world.
The first change we are making is halving the length of time international arrivals will need to stay in MIQ to 7 days. Advice is this is the lowest risk change as the vast majority of border cases we pick up within the first 7 days.
The vast majority of COVID-19 cases are picked up within the first 3 days of MIQ. Positive cases from border arrivals are increasingly rare, at 2 or 3 per 1000, and there is a 1 in 2000 rate of positive test results in MIQ after day 7. In addition, full vaccination will be required for all non-New Zealand travellers from 1 November.
Arrivals will be tested on day 0/1, day 3, and day 6/7 testing, followed by a short period of self-isolation at home – around 3 days.
A rapid antigen test and health checks will be carried out on day 7 before a person leaves MIQ, and people will get a PCR test on day 9 of their home isolation and stay at home until the result comes back.
This evolution of MIQ will initially free up more than 1500 rooms a month. These spaces will enable 2 things; they will allow rooms to continue to support the Auckland outbreak and some additional rooms will be available and will add to the vouchers being released next week.
Shortened stays in MIQ were part of our international reconnecting plan announced shortly prior to the Auckland Delta outbreak. The move to ensure returnees are vaccinated and additional data on Delta have enabled these changes to be bought forward.
The second stage of our plan will see New Zealand moving towards having more vaccinated people able to self-isolate at home instead of in MIQ.
This option will be made available to increasing numbers of fully vaccinated travellers in the first quarter of 2022. However our priority at this stage is to safely transition to the new traffic light system first and bed that in before adding the additional risk of international arrivals immediately entering the community.
When the COVID-19 Protection Framework is bedded in, 90 per cent of eligible New Zealanders will be fully vaccinated so we will have a higher level of confidence than we do right now of allowing international arrivals to go straight into the community.
A phased approach also gives us time to evaluate the technology that will be used to monitor home isolation compliance in the business home isolation pilot, which starts at the end of this month.
Fees, exemption and exception frameworks and isolate at home guidelines will be updated during the next three weeks. From 14 November, the self-isolation period for business travellers in the pilot will also be shortened to 10 days.
Expansion of one-way quarantine-free travel with parts of the Pacific
We are also expanding one-way quarantine free travel from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu to include travellers from those countries and Tokelau who have the right to reside permanently in New Zealand and people covered by border exceptions, from 8 November.
Travellers must be fully vaccinated, unless they are New Zealand citizens. RSE workers are currently required to have at least one dose, and will be required to be fully vaccinated from 1 January 2022.
Due to the low risk in these countries, travellers will not need to provide a negative test before leaving or isolate on arrival in New Zealand.
Standard QFT requirements will remain in place – that is, the requirement for passengers to confirm they meet health and eligibility requirements, and to complete Nau Mai Rā. The full list of requirements will be on the Unite Against COVID-19 website.
“I thank the governments of these countries for their cooperation, which has led to us reaching this positive step in reconnecting our people, and the horticulture industry for the initial successful trial of QFT with Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu," said Minister Chris Hipkins.
The existing quarantine free travel arrangements with the Cook Islands and Niue will be maintained.
The COVID-19 situation continues to evolve rapidly, both here and abroad. We need to move quickly to make sure we are minimising the risks we face in the best way possible. We will, as we always have, step through these changes carefully.