Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Government’s long-awaited MIQ deadlines date about ‘groaning’ executive system as well as health risk, says expert

215 cases, fully vaccinated Kiwis won’t need to stay at MIQ next year. Video / New Zealand News

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The Covid Response minister announced today that he will return to New Zealand’s alert level system if a new vaccine-resistant variant overwhelms the country and the traffic light framework fails to contain it.

Speaking to The AM Show, Chris Hipkins said that while the Government is strictly committed to the traffic light system, a backup plan would revert to the warning level system.

If the government had a vaccine-resistant variant of the virus, it would have to revert to its alert level plan, he said.

It was a possibility, but it wasn’t what they thought would happen, he added.

Arguing for the speed with which the traffic light law is being rushed, he said he would prefer to get things through a regular parliamentary process. It wasn’t ideal, but they had taken safety precautions.

Hipkins told TVNZ Breakfast that in a pandemic they had to decide, and in an ideal world, he asked him to run it through the elected committee for six months.

They could have slowed the process down, but this meant that Auckland, like the rest of the country, would wait longer to be freed from restrictions and didn’t want people to wait any longer than necessary.

However, he said there are extra security measures in place.

Every order issued under the new bill would have to be scrutinized and periodically renewed by parliament.

Responding to criticism about vaccination passports, which means more bureaucracy for business owners, he said businesses are willing to reopen and that’s the way to go.

He said that having vaccine requirements in certain places is the way to keep themselves and customers safer.

He acknowledged that this would be an extra cost for the business, but compared it to the fact that the hospitality industry has to check IDs to make sure people are over 18.

Progressive homecoming

According to one expert, the Government’s decision to finally set dates when fully vaccinated Kiwis could fly home from overseas without entering MIQ was about an administrative system that was “groaning” because it was a health risk to us.

Hipkins announced at yesterday’s 1pm Beehive briefing that from January 17, fully vaccinated New Zealanders will be able to travel from Australia without exceeding the MIQ.

Fully vaccinated Kiwis from all other countries can come and go to MIQ from February 14.

These fully vaccinated international arrivals will need to self-isolate at home in New Zealand for seven days, register a negative Covid-19 test on arrival and another before entering the community.

And foreign nationals who have all their vaccinations completed can start arriving from April 30. But Hipkins said that date could change, or that overseas influxes could be arranged by visa category.

Hipkins said the plan balances the demands of multiple groups with the need to prevent a Covid-19 spike.

But public health expert Professor Michael Baker said the complexity and difficulty of managing pandemic prevention systems explains much of the decision.

“A mix of a genuine desire and an element of administrative capacity to protect New Zealand from the ravages of the pandemic.”

Baker says it’s logistically impossible to open New Zealand before Christmas, showing that multiple systems have been under pressure lately.

He said pandemic prevention systems were “groaning” with the volume of demand, including MIQ and vaccine transitions.

“We’re in an age where we expect everything to run smoothly,” Baker said. “We’re moving to a different strategy now, and we call it a tight suppression approach.”

Baker said the recommended guidelines for overseas arrivals are stricter than for people in locked-down Auckland who can travel around the country. from December 15.

All overseas arrivals not required to enter MIQ will need a negative pre-departure test, proof of full vaccination and passenger statement on travel history.

Starting next month, Indonesia, Fiji, India, Pakistan and Brazil will lose their shame of being seen as “very high risk” countries.

Factors such as the number of new cases, the reliability of testing systems, and the proportion of positive tests determine whether a country falls into a very high risk group.

Cases have increased in Europe over the past two weeks, but elsewhere the global situation was generally more promising. New research out of Japan has suggested that the Delta drove itself towards extinction after several mutations.

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker.  Photo / Provided
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker. Photo / Provided

But Baker said no one here should pin their hopes on a similar scenario.

When asked about the delta variant’s chances of self-destructing in New Zealand in the near future, he said, “This will likely make me believe in a higher power.”

The virus was more likely to continue to circulate in New Zealand, but high vaccination rates and widespread use of face masks could greatly reduce its spread, he said.

David Cooper, CEO and director of Malcolm Pacific Immigration, said the response from colleagues and customers to the border announcement was largely positive.

“At least now we have something to work on.”

Cooper told The Herald that many Kiwis had been willing to fly home before, but were reluctant to take their MIQ seats.

He said it still remains to be seen how self-isolation will work and what type of accommodation will be considered adequate for self-isolation.

Opposition parties blasted the three-stage travel announcement.

“This timetable for opening New Zealand to the world is truly pathetic,” said Chris Bishop, National’s Covid-19 response spokesperson.

He said Hipkins had not accepted fully vaccinated travelers from Australia who had tested positive for Covid for months, so there was no reason why the trans-task balloon would not reopen now.

It will be easier for kiwis to return home early next year.  Photo / Getty Images
It will be easier for kiwis to return home early next year. Photo / Getty Images

The Act said the Labor Party was “the Grinch who stole Christmas for no reason” and deprived Kiwis abroad of a chance to return home.

“Where is the cost-benefit analysis of closing the Australian border by next year?” Party leader David Seymour said.

“What is the reason for kneeling for four more months in the tourism sector?”

Hospitality New Zealand CEO Julie White was unimpressed by the three-phase plan.

He said more accommodation companies would collapse if foreign nationals were banned by April 30.

“I’m totally baffled as to why our borders couldn’t be opened long before then to people tested and vaccinated from safe countries,” said White.

Flight Center general manager David Coombes said a few questions about the announcement dampened his excitement.

“Given the desperation of many families to reunite with their loved ones before Christmas, we question why this action should wait until 2022.”

Coombes said a week of isolation is excessive for fully vaccinated visitors who have been repeatedly tested for Covid.

“We sincerely hope that today’s statement is a worst-case scenario, and we welcome any discussion from the government at an earlier date with simpler, more sensible security measures.”

The country’s largest airline was more optimistic.

“Today’s announcement marks the beginning of a return to international travel,” said Leanne Geraghty, Air New Zealand manager.

This is incredibly exciting news for New Zealanders at home and abroad, and we look forward to welcoming our customers back on board.”

He said it would be desirable to get people back together before Christmas, but at least customers now had confidence in planning holidays for the New Year.

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