The National Party yesterday unveiled plans for new border security measures, including a requirement for returnees to provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test before boarding a plane back to New Zealand. If elected in October, the National Party’s tough new policies could leave large numbers of New Zealanders stranded overseas.
More than 7,200 people have so far arrived into New Zealand in August, an average of 360 people per day. However, since border restrictions were first introduced in March to help mitigate the impacts of Covid-19, almost 70,000 people have entered New Zealand. Returnees are coming back from a variety of different countries and the National Party’s proposed ‘no test, no travel’ policy could leave many stuck where they are.
Rates of testing vary considerably by country and many governments restrict who can get tested due to limitations on the capacity of their testing infrastructure. In many countries – including Australia, the United Kingdom and parts of the US – asymptomatic people are not eligible for Covid-19 tests. Travellers are already currently advised not to travel if they are experiencing any Covid-19 symptoms, so it is not clear how the National Party’s pre-travel testing policy would work in practice or if it would reduce the number of cases coming into New Zealand.
Availability of Covid-19 tests by country:
- Australia – current government advice states, ‘It’s very important that COVID-19 testing is only done for people that meet certain clinical criteria.’ They recommend getting tested if you are currently experiencing Covid symptoms, even if they are mild. Asymptomatic people are not generally being tested.
- The United Kingdom – the government currently advises, ‘Anyone with symptoms can get a coronavirus test, whatever their age.’ There are plans to bring in mass testing by the end of the year, including among asymptomatic people, however the UK government has already faced challenges this year in ramping up their testing capacity within specified timeframes.
- United States – free tests are available nationwide. However, in recent months demand has at times outstripped capacity to carry out tests quickly and accurately. In the US, recommendations about testing are made by state and local health authorities, for example:
- The California Department of Public Health recommends getting tested if you are experiencing fever, coughing or shortness of breath and your symptoms are severe or on the advice of a physician.
- The New York State Department of Health offers free tests when ordered by a health care provider.
- The District of Columbia Department of Health – which covers the nation’s capital – offers free Covid tests at walk-in sites without a note from a doctor.
The National Party’s border security requirements would differentially impact on returnees, depending on where they are coming from and also potentially their economic situation. Some individuals may be able to access private testing abroad if they are able to pay for it.
Under National’s plans, all returnees to New Zealand would still be required to complete 14 days in managed isolation or quarantine facilities and to be tested on days 3 and 12. It is quite possible that hundreds or even thousands of New Zealanders would be prohibited from returning from abroad by the National Party’s proposed policy change. At the same time, it seems it would do little to reduce the burden of Covid-19 at the New Zealand border.