Covid-19

All incoming travellers to be quarantined

The Government has announced that all incoming travellers will be quarantined away from their homes and families for a 14 day period, after a public campaign that received widespread support

The Government has announced it will quarantine all returning New Zealanders in hotels for at least 14 days, following a public campaign led by epidemiologists and a National Party petition to tighten border controls.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also promised to give businesses and others two day's notice before a potential move down from Level 4 restrictions.

Sir David Skegg and Michael Baker, epidemiologists at the University of Otago, have been pushing since the announcement of the four-week lockdown for all incoming New Zealanders to be quarantined away from their homes and families for a suitable period of time.

In the last week, the National Party has jumped on board, with a petition launched by Simon Bridges on Tuesday receiving 40,000 signatures in 24 hours.

Although Ardern had repeatedly said she was considering the idea, it was only Thursday that it became government policy.

In a speech marking the halfway point of the initial four-week lockdown, and on a day when there were only 29 new Covid-19 cases, Ardern said New Zealand’s borders needed to be “watertight” for the country to ease restrictions.

“As an island nation we have a distinct advantage in our ability to eliminate the virus, but our borders are our biggest risk.

“The Government has gone harder earlier with border measures compared to other countries, but even one person slipping through the cracks and bringing the virus in can see an explosion in cases as we have observed with some of our bigger clusters.”

Ardern said mandatory quarantine periods would not have been possible any earlier, with nearly 40,000 Kiwis returning home since the border was closed to foreign nationals on March 20.

A network of up to 18 hotels would be used for the new requirements, with up to two of those specifically set aside for those under strict quarantine conditions, as opposed to "assisted self-isolation" where arrivals could leave the facility for exercise or fresh air.

“With these three pillars, border controls, rigorous testing and contact tracing, we have what we need to win this marathon.”

The Government was also ramping up its contact tracing abilities, with the Ministry of Health working on a locally developed app to help public health teams and other officials.  

The Singaporean government’s TraceTogether app, based on Bluetooth technology and able to record interactions between a phone and any other phones nearby, was being investigated as a potential model.

The contact data was stored on the phone, with any app user testing positive then releasing the data to the Government for contact tracing. 

While technological solutions would be useful, Ardern said it was important to note that they would not solve everything.

“What’s most important is that you have good people, and enough people, working on contact tracing as quickly as possible. We do, and we continue to improve every day.”

 Ardern also signalled further increases to New Zealand’s testing rates, saying pre-existing high levels would be supplemented with additional testing to ensure greater certainty around any decline in the virus’ spread.

“With these three pillars, border controls, rigorous testing and contact tracing, we have what we need to win this marathon.”

Returning NZers 'higher risk'

"Now we've got a bunch of people coming back to New Zealand who do have a higher risk of incubating disease than most travellers in the past," Baker told Newsroom in March.

"I do think we need to consider a higher level of quarantine for them and that would be the more supervised form of quarantine where you know where they are, you know they're not going to be mixing with other people and they're going to sit out the quarantine period."

Ardern had expressed similar concerns in the past.

"We are very concerned that again the border continues to be the issue that we have to make sure we are placing resource and energy into. It is New Zealanders coming home who do pose risk - and I say that with no judgment, it is just a fact of life for the entire globe right now. Our citizens coming home are the ones carrying Covid-19," she said.

As the lockdown reached its halfway point this week, the issue became more urgent. In order to lift the restrictive measures, Ardern said the border needed to be "watertight". A quarantine was the obvious way to ensure that, as Newsroom reported Tuesday.

"Success does not mean we change the course. Removing restrictions now would allow the virus to spread rapidly once again and we could be back to the starting line within two weeks."

However, Ardern reiterated that the lockdown needed to run for its full duration, despite only 29 new cases being recorded in the last 24 hours - the lowest number since March 23, before the lockdown began.

"Success does not mean we change the course. Removing restrictions now would allow the virus to spread rapidly once again and we could be back to the starting line within two weeks."

Police would continue to enforce the rules, with some road blocks in place over Easter weekend.

"While most people are doing the right thing, some are not. We cannot let the selfish actions of a few set us back."

However, Ardern said the Government understood the need for some signposts about the path out of lockdown to allow businesses and Kiwis to plan.

More detailed guidance on what life at Level 3 would look like was set to be released next week, allowing some fine-tuning and advance preparations.

On April 20, two days before the lockdown was due to finish, Cabinet would make a decision on the next steps for the country - giving businesses two days to implement any changes in the event the alert level did change.

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