20 Aug 2020

'We'll make sure it's legal' - Collins on compulsory testing

From Checkpoint, 6:08 pm on 20 August 2020

National is promising a dedicated Border Protection Agency to oversee and manage Covid-19, and any public health threats at the border if the party is elected into government.

The new agency would answer to a dedicated minister and scale up as and when needed - like the Civil Defence model. 

National border security policy would require all international travellers heading to New Zealand to provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test before arriving here. 

Contact tracing technology will be mandatory for border and isolation workers and recent returnees.

It is aiming for a maximum 60-minute wait-time for a Covid-19 test at any time.

The party says it will beef up contact tracing and testing, including regular testing for aged care workers and rest home residents. 

Party Leader Judith Collins admits there will be human rights concerns about her policy of compulsory testing before returning to New Zealand, but she says if it is not legal, as Prime Minister she would change the law so it is.

"Customs have their job to do which is all about people; this is about the pandemic. This is about the Covid-19 and it's also about any other pandemic viruses that may come our way," she told Checkpoint. 

The proposed agency would cost anything up to $1 billion to set it up and maintain, Collins said. "But we also know that cost will come down in years when there is no pandemic threat." 

She said it does seem like a lot of money but in comparison to the more than $1 billion being spent on the wage subsidy, it is worth the cost. 

Also in the proposed policy is a compulsory test for anyone travelling to New Zealand, to be taken before flying here. 

Covid-19 can have a 14-day incubation period before symptoms show, but Collins said it is a precaution to stop any already positive cases getting onboard with hundreds of other people. 

Emirates is already undertaking such a testing programme, with their own testing stations, Collins said. She would make it a requirement of airlines flying into NZ. 

She did not say if she has had legal advice on whether a New Zealander in particular can be forced to take a medical test before being allowed to come home. 

"We will make sure that it is legal because ... we will change the law if necessary. 

"We know that there will be some concerns about the Bill of Rights Act and peoples' human rights, we understand that. And we also understand that this is always a balancing situation between the rights of an individual who may be feeling that they shouldn't have to have a test to come back into New Zealand, but let's look at it this way, right at the moment the law has been changed so when they are here they have penalties. So what's the problem?

"The answer surely must be. We don't want Covid-19, and no New Zealander wants Covid-19 here."

Collins said National would also like to see everyone in New Zealand using the Covid-19 tracer smartphone app. Otherwise the current contact tracing appears to be satisfactory, she said. 

National is taking advice from health professionals, she said, but would not name what epidemiologists are advising her or the party. 

"We have epidemiologists who are working with us. I'm not going to name them… We can tell you however, that Dr Verrall, who is a virologist and standing for the Labour Party - we've adopted quite a lot of her suggestions in the document she put out… So we're very happy to take ideas from anywhere."