7 Jul 2021

Govt looking at changes to Covid-19 border limits for vaccinated travellers

From Checkpoint, 6:06 pm on 7 July 2021

The government is looking at changes at the border for vaccinated travellers, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.

Auckland Airport welcome back sign.

The arrivals lounge at Auckland International Airport when the trans-Tasman bubble opened. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Hipkins told Checkpoint that in the "medium term, I think some people may not need to go into managed isolation at all if they've been fully vaccinated and they're coming from a country that has lower risk, where Covid-19 isn't spreading as rapidly".

The government was looking at "menu of different things" and isolation requirements might be different for different groups of people, Hipkins said.

"I think towards the end of the year you will see some calculated changes ... you'll see us preparing for those changes ... trialling of different things between now and the end of the year but we're doing it very carefully."

He said it was still "early days" around fully vaccinated travellers needing to stay in managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

While it was likely there would be changes, it was too early for any decisions.

Asked when would it be the right time, he replied: "Once we get a higher population coverage around vaccine, once we see a bit more evidence around what it does for transmission... we also have to be looking at what's happening around the rest of the world ...how rapidly is the virus spreading, how rapidly is it continuing to mutate.

"They're all things that will play a role here."

While the number of vaccinated travellers going into managed isolation and quarantine is not being counted at present that would start soon.

However, vaccinations would need to be able to be verified and the international community has not settled on a way of doing this. New Zealand is part of this work, he added.  

"Not all vaccines are created equal - some are better than others," adding that more information was needed for both the Chinese and Russian vaccines.  

Hipkins ruled out setting a vaccination target for the country.

He said the elimination strategy would continue to be pursued and is the practice for other illnesses such as measles.

One of the key questions for the scientific advisory committee chaired by Sir David Skegg is what does vaccination mean for our border settings and at what point should the settings be adjusted, Hipkins said.

The government and the committee were continuing to have "an ongoing conversation" about the issues and in the next month more information will be made public.

"There isn't a blueprint for the future at this point. No country has one or if they do, the blueprints are either pretty vague or pretty risky."

He promised "an open conversation" with New Zealanders about management of the borders.