National wants everyone entering NZ to test negative first

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 20 Aug 2020, 11:32AM
Photo / Aaron Dahmen
Photo / Aaron Dahmen

National wants everyone entering NZ to test negative first

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 20 Aug 2020, 11:32AM

The National Party wants Kiwis returning home from overseas to have tested negative for Covid-19 before being allowed in.

Leader Judith Collins released the party's border policy this morning, which includes mandatory use of contact-tracing technologies - such as the Covid Card - for all overseas arrivals, border-facing workers and DHB staff who treat or test patients.

The Herald revealed this aspect of the policy this morning, and the Government has just announced a pilot of the Covid Card for staff at managed isolation facilities.

The idea has previously been floated by Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker as a way to get a head start on contact-tracing in the event of a future outbreak.

Speaking this morning, Collins said the need for heightened border management was underlined by the Government's failures over testing, and needed to be in place for years given the nature of the global pandemic.

She said the need for overseas arrivals to test negative before arriving was a standard practice for other countries.

National wanted to boost contact-tracing and take-up of the Covid tracing app.

"Yo-yoing in and out of lockdown is not sustainable for our businesses, for our communities, for our people," Collins said.

The requirement to test negative might be a burden on returnees, but Collins said that should be weighed against the current lockdown-lite imposed on Auckland.

"It's a very small price for someone to pay."

National's health spokesman Shane Reti said someone who tested positive couldn't arrive in New Zealand.

People overseas unable to get a test wouldn't be exempt from having to test negative.

Collins said even with the best measures in the world, it was always possible for Covid-19 to emerge again.

Reti didn't think requiring a negative test was an unnecessary burden, nor was it redundant because of the 14 days in managed isolation they would have to have anyway, alongside a negative test before they could be released.

People who test positive now are placed in quarantine and the infection is contained and they must test negative before they can be released.

Reti said the 60-minute waiting time for a test was a resourcing issue, and National wanted greater access to testing across the country.

Collins said the failures of border testing meant the party was no longer advocating for the return of international students, as it had done in June.

She said it was a "clear failure of leadership" that the Government had thought border control measures were in place when they were in the process of being delivered.

"If we have the tracing app, something like a Covid Card, testing before people leave to go on a plane, the managed isolation and quarantine tough and solid and able to be relied on, we should be able to quickly detect who bring back to quarantine.

"Lockdown should be the last decision we have to take."

She said the Government was playing "catch up" by announcing thermal imaging and a trial for the Covid Card.

Collins said she "thought it was very nice" that Winston Peters is advocating for a single border protection agency. National also wants a new Border Protection Agency to oversee management of Covid-19 at the border, which would be accountable to a dedicated minister.

"The current ad-hoc system of managing Covid-19 at our border – putting various agencies in charge of different facets – has led to a disorderly and confused response," Collins said in a statement.

The agency would be in charge of the criteria for people - including foreign workers and students - coming to New Zealand.

National would also require people travelling into the country to sign a health declaration and provide evidence of a negative test before arriving.

They would still have to spend 14 days in quarantine or managed isolation, and be tested on day three and day 12.

Thermal imaging would be set up at points of entry to prevent people escaping, and workers in contact with overseas arrivals would have to be tested weekly.

Other aspects of the border policy include:

• Rapid deployment of Bluetooth applications to enhance contact-tracing while also exploring alternative technologies, such as a Covid Card.

• A target for a waiting time for Covid testing of no longer than 60 minutes.

• Widening the availability of Covid-19 testing nationwide, including easily deployable mobile testing stations in main centres.

• Regular wastewater testing for Covid-19

• Regular testing of aged-care workers and increasing opportunities for testing within aged-care facilities.

The announcement comes as the Government is on the back foot over the implementation of its border control measures, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern disappointed with the slow progress towards the regular testing of border-facing workers.

NZ First leader Winston Peters also released border policy yesterday, including a single Crown agency and moving the country's managed quarantine and isolation facilities into army bases around the country.

Yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced 500 more Defence Force personnel will beef up the border controls and testing regime.