22 Sep 2020

National to unveil border and quarantine policy this morning

6:38 am on 22 September 2020

A National government would set about expanding the country's quarantine system to allow it to gradually open up the border, RNZ understands.

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National deputy Gerry Brownlee. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

National deputy Gerry Brownlee will outline the policy in Auckland this morning having previously promised to set up a border protection agency with a single focus on keeping Covid-19 out.

RNZ understands the agency, Te Korowai Whakamaru, would be tasked with developing a longer-term quarantine programme with public health as its chief objective.

The plan would allow a staged re-opening of the border with an initial focus on family reunification and critical workers. It could later potentially be extended to other foreigners.

In August, National said it would require anyone coming into the country to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test before boarding a plane. Border workers would also have to carry contact tracing technology like a Covid card.

National's policy is the latest attempt by politicians to grapple with the long-term problem of how to open up New Zealand to a world still plagued by Covid-19.

Since 19 March, New Zealand has been closed to nearly all non-New Zealand residents and citizens.

Two weeks ago, the government announced a very slight easing of the restrictions to allow some partners of citizens and residents into the country, as well as some temporary work visa holders.

It tweaked the criteria for a "critical worker" exemption, allowing employers to recruit staff from overseas if their skills were "not readily obtainable" in New Zealand as opposed to "not obtainable" at all.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern also promised her party would carve out a 10 percent quota at managed isolation hotels for such workers.

The current capacity in managed isolation stands at about 7000.

The ACT party yesterday announced a policy to partially reopen the border to "high-value foreign tourists" who could pay to quarantine at luxury resorts for two weeks.

"That could bring a lot of money here," ACT leader David Seymour told RNZ. "It could save businesses.

"There's got to be more than a few plane loads of rich Americans who wish they were on a country not on the verge of civil war right now."

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