Let vaccinated travellers isolate at home like air crew - Gorman

From Checkpoint, 5:27 pm on 2 July 2021

International arrivals who are fully vaccinated should be able to bypass managed isolation and quarantine and spend just three days isolating at home, Professor of Medicine Des Gorman says. 

Travellers with face masks at Auckland Airport international arrivals during the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak on 20/3/2020.

It's time we ditch a 'one-size-fits-all' MIQ approach, Des Gorman says. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Gorman told Checkpoint it is time New Zealand ditches the 'one-size-fits-all' Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) for people who are fully vaccinated with an approved vaccine. 

Several businesses have told Checkpoint they are unable to send vaccinated staff overseas to critical trade shows because of a lack of space in MIQ on their return. One of those trade shows had $60 million of government funding. The ASB Classic was also cancelled due to a lack of spots in MIQ.

Gorman said there should be no reason why a fully vaccinated person shouldn't be able to by-pass MIQ and isolate instead at home. 

"We already have a living example in New Zealand in terms of aircrew who come back into the country who are fully vaccinated. They've been isolating for a couple of days while they're away and they are quarantining or isolating at home. 

"We are already doing it, we're doing it on a fairly large scale in terms of the air crew, and there has not been a single outbreak resulting from that particular approach. 

"So quite frankly, if you and I were vaccinated with a vaccine like Pfizer, and we spent a couple of days before we came back to New Zealand in isolation, we have maybe had a rapid antigen test at the airport, we should be able to isolate at home for a couple of days and then away we go. There's no reason why we'd need to be in quarantine given that sort of approach."

Professor Des Gorman says it makes no sense to resort to social lockdowns to control an outbreak of COVID-19.

Des Gorman  Photo: supplied

There would need to be measures in place to ensure people are doing what they should, Gorman said.

"Basically you'd go home for three days, you'd have to have your phone on, people would check you where you claimed to be, you'd be pinged at home - people may ring you to prove that you are actually isolating at home, you're not roaming around the neighbourhood."

People should be allowed to isolate at home rather than spend two weeks in MIQ if they have been vaccinated by an approved vaccine or can prove their immunity, Gorman said. 

"So there are vaccines which have an incomplete response where we check them for antibody status so what we do is we'd say, 'well, we'll accept Pfizer at face value, we accept Moderna at face value, but if you've had Janssen or AstraZeneca we need you to have an antibody test to prove that you actually have an immunity and that's something we do commonly. I think that test costs about $45."

Gorman said the one-size fits all approach didn't identify the low risk, low, low risk or high risk individuals. 

"There has to be some reward for vaccination, if we're going to become vaccinated there's got to be some point to the exercise, and that point has to be liberty and freedom of movement."

Vaccine targets woeful 

About 9 percent of New Zealand's eligible population are fully vaccinated for Covid-19, with some regions exceeding their targets.

But they are targets that Gorman questions.

"I think it's a time honoured tradition of setting incredibly low targets, exceeding them, then congratulating yourself on how well you've done," he said.

The government couldn't aim much lower, Gorman said. 

"I think the targets have been dictated to by the amount of vaccine that's available and the very limited ability to get it into people's arms. So I think it's actually working backwards from what they think they can achieve easily, and then setting that as a target, well that's not a target. 

"A target is something which stretches you to do better today than you did yesterday and do better next week than you did last week. A target which you can trip over and succeed against is not really a target."