20 Jun 2020

Tighter rules at Tauranga Port for foreign boat arrivals

3:12 pm on 20 June 2020

Tauranga health authorities have clamped down on sailors entering the country after a horror week for the government on pandemic border controls, but Auckland is holding off.

Tauranga Port, Bay of Plenty, with Mount Maunganui in the background.

Tauranga Port. (File image). Photo: Linda McKie / 123RF

The public health body for Bay of Plenty has taken action without waiting for an imminent move by Cabinet to tighten port security, requiring sailors from foreign boats to clear a negative test for Covid-19.

Despite inaction from Auckland Regional Public Health, it said it understood a revised national policy was near completion.

A spokesperson for the prime minister's office said changes to the border security at ports in New Zealand were under consideration by Cabinet and decisions were imminent.

Ports of Auckland has been agitating for a clampdown.

It has not been letting sailors off the ships for months under alert levels 2,3 and 4, but it was facing increasing pressure from shipping companies under alert level 1 to let them off.

However, the port said the national rules were too risky.

Auckland Regional Public Health (ARPHS) agreed with the port that it was important "there are nationally consistent maritime border policies for the Covid-19 response."

Auckland, New Zealand - May 25, 2017:  Aerial view of the port of Auckland New Zealand.

Ports of Auckland. (File image). Photo: 123RF

But ARPHS said its hands were tied, because while it was reviewing its approach, any actual changes could only come from the Ministry of Health.

The health minister's office backed this, and said updates to the current rules would come through the ministry.

Nevertheless, Tauranga has acted without a national policy.

From Friday, crews who arrive in the Tauranga Port on foreign ships would need to return a negative Covid-19 test before being allowed shore leave.

It is a decision that is much stricter than current Ministry of Health rules.

At alert level 1, crews at sea for more than 14 days who have not declared illness are allowed to disembark with no health checks required.

This week it was revealed that two women were granted exemption from managed isolation, and left without being tested, only to test positive later.

RNZ had also received multiple reports of people mixing freely within the facilities, including those at different stages of the 14-day period and of other people not being tested when they should have.

A government spokesperson said "all maritime arrivals must self-isolate on the vessel for 14 days from departure or last crew change and the ship's master has to provide advance notice of arrival including health of those on-board."

They said an increase in vessels entering the country is expected under level 1 and with some rules expiring on 30 June, Cabinet is reviewing the current settings.

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