A top public health expert is calling for tougher measures to keep New Zealand Covid free, including a five-day hotel quarantine before travellers board international flights.
Otago University public health professor Nick Wilson is also calling for quarantine facilities to be moved out of Auckland, saying it is putting the largest city at risk of yet another outbreak.
Wilson today urged the Government to beef up pre-departure requirements for passengers coming here, telling Kate Hawkesby authorities should be more worried than they were over the emerging contagious Covid-19 variants.
From Friday midnight all passengers travelling from the United Kingdom and the United States are now required to produce a negative Covid test taken in the 72 hours prior to departure.
But Wilson says until the vaccine is rolled out this will not be enough to keep New Zealand safe from new infection strains sweeping the globe.
"Pre-flight testing is really a very necessary move but it also needs to be really combined with a period of pre-flight quarantine, say in an airport hotel," he said.
"We also need to reduce the very large numbers still coming into the country from high risk places like the UK and the US."
Wilson said New Zealand was in a unique situation having accomplished a successful elimination strategy and it needed to put far more effort into protecting the country's Covid-free status with these new more contagious variants until the population was vaccinated.
While it posed logistical challenges having a transport hub, like Hawaii, where people could undertake their five days of quarantine in a hotel before flying on to New Zealand could make it logistically feasible.
"But this is all so much simpler than dealing with a large outbreak where you have to close down a New Zealand city so it's a very reasonable trade off."
He urged the Government to follow Australia's lead when it came to tightening the cap on how many people allowed into their country.
"They're accepting five times fewer travellers on a per capita basis than New Zealand is and they're also looking at better ways to do hotel quarantine, getting it out of hotels, which we know are not properly designed for quarantine."
He suggested the Government look at relocating managed isolation and quarantine facilities out of our most populous centre.
"It really does seem crazy to have MIQ hotels in Auckland.
"Maybe we should just move those people to other centres and spare Auckland the risk of an outbreak or use those Auckland hotels for the really lowest risk travellers say from Australia."
Wilson said if New Zealand wanted to remain free from community outbreak it needed to improve uptake of the bluetooth-enabled smart phone app and look at ways increase testing.
But the onus lay with the Government who was responsible for the border and not doing a good enough job at the border, he said.