Changes to pre-departure testing on the cards; MIQ to 'fizzle out' by August

NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Wed, 18 May 2022, 10:51am

Changes to pre-departure testing on the cards; MIQ to 'fizzle out' by August

NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Wed, 18 May 2022, 10:51am

Chris Hipkins says the powers granted under Covid-19 response laws have always made him uncomfortable.

And he said hopefully most of the Government's pandemic response rules will largely be dismantled or replaced by the end of the year.

Hipkins today told MPs that as a Parliamentarian, he'd never been comfortable with the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act.

"Those kinds of extraordinary powers should only be used in an emergency situation, and only as long as they're justified."

He added: "We will reach a point, and I hope it will be this year, where the vast bulk of our Covid-19 response will transition to a more business-as-usual approach."

And the health select committee also heard changes to pre-departure testing were likely and the managed isolation network will be largely done away with by early August.

Hipkins said the Crown was unlikely to appeal the April Grounded Kiwis court ruling which found New Zealanders' rights to re-enter the country had been infringed.

Justice Jillian Mallon found MIQ was a critical component of the Government's elimination strategy.

But she said the combination of the virtual lobby and narrow emergency criteria meant New Zealanders' rights to re-enter the country was infringed.

Hipkins said MIQ was now largely in use for refugees, arrivals from Afghanistan, and Antarctic scientific staff.

The MIQ network would largely fizzle out by August, he said.

Hipkins also said a review of the Covid-19 response was likely but the exact nature of that review was to be determined.

"For public confidence though, it'll need to have a good degree of independence."

He said Royal Commissions could go on for a very long time and consume vast resources.

"The most concerning new variant for us is one that would send us back to square one."

Hipkins said such a variant - impervious to vaccines and highly lethal - was unlikely.

"But we have to be able to plan for all of those."

Act leader David Seymour asked Hipkins what the goal of the pandemic response was now.

Hipkins said the goal was still to reduce hospitalisations and mortality.

He said some recent advice suggested reducing isolation periods from seven days to five could lead to infected people passing on Covid-19 to 33 per cent more people.

Much of the advice for the overall pandemic response was based on statistical modelling, Hipkins added.

"But some of those numbers may well be shifting."

Seymour said some people who had bad reactions to first or second doses had been mandated out of jobs.

"Are we going to keep mandating boosters when other countries stop doing it?" Seymour asked.

Hipkins said he'd asked for more advice about serious adverse reactions to vaccine doses.

The minister said technical experts had generally advised a fourth dose or second booster was desirable, no earlier than six months after the third dose.

"What you'll see is those mandates are constantly shrinking," he said, referring to compulsory vaccinations for some workplaces.

Te Pāti Māori earlier today said the pandemic response was largely successful and should provide a template for future initiatives in terms of devolving more decision-making.

"The devolution of Covid funding to Māori to lead our own solutions highlighted that all we need to succeed is for the Crown to step out of the way," co-leader Rawiri Waititi said.

More than a million Kiwis have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, although some experts think the actual number of infections is double that number.

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield last week said probably only half of the country's Covid infections were likely being reported.