29 Sep 2021

Home isolation expansion by Christmas not ruled out - Hipkins

From Checkpoint, 5:08 pm on 29 September 2021

There is a possibility Auckland's alert level could drop next week but with travel to and from the city remaining restricted.

The government will review current alert level 3 settings for the city and alert level 2 settings for the rest of the country on Monday.

Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins told Checkpoint the decision would be made on the most up-to-date information available but agreed the city could face a phased transition to level 2, involving more freedoms within Auckland, but border restrictions remaining.

"That is a possibility. We have in the past stepped down in alert levels, not immediately overnight gone from say level 3 to level 2, but started to ease restrictions on a pathway to something," he said.

Exemptions for travelling across the border expanded this week, subject to those travelling showing proof of negative test results and reasons for travel.

Hipkins comments come as new community cases of Covid-19 jumped to 45 today. Yesterday just eight new cases were announced, and one of the city's sub-clusters disappeared, leaving three sub-clusters for health officials to tackle.

However, Hipkins said the dramatic rise in numbers was not as daunting as it may sound, as the majority of these cases so far had been identified as household cases and those already isolating.

Home isolation may expand before Christmas

Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave details of the government's pilot scheme allowing those travelling overseas for business to forgo MIQ and isolate at home. The scheme will be open for expressions of interest tomorrow.

It will be capped at 150 people and will focus on businesses and employees required to travel internationally for work purposes.

Those applying will need to arrive in New Zealand between 30 October and 8 December, with final travellers leaving isolation by 22 December. It will be combined with a monitoring and testing regime.

Hipkins this evening said home isolation could be available for more than businesspeople before Christmas.

"I wouldn't rule that out, although I don't think that's likely to happen on a large scale this side of Christmas," he said.

"We're not going to be waiting until this pilot is over to capture the lessons from it and consider how we factor that into a scaling up of this approach.

"So if the lessons early on are favourable, if we think that we can do more, then we would look to do more, we wouldn't be waiting until it's all over before making those decisions. But I don't want to pre-commit that, there's still a lot a lot of work to do here.

"We are acutely aware that we've got a lot of people who want to come into the country and of course we want to find ways for them to do that safely as quickly as we can. But I don't want to raise expectations without an ability to be able to meet them."

Purpose-built MIQ facilities

Hipkins also said purpose-built MIQ facilities may be necessary as the needs of MIQ are likely to become more focused on quarantining returnees with Covid-19 in the next couple of years.

"I think we're likely to see a changing nature in what we expect of MIQ. As we see more people self-isolating on return, for example, it's likely that the MIQ's work is more likely to be focused at the quarantine end, that is, dealing with people with Covid, rather than the isolating end, which is making sure people don't have Covid.

"That does mean that we would need to look at the overall makeup of the facilities that we've got. When we're talking about quarantine ... it may be that we have a smaller number of beds available number of rooms that are more specialised."