23 Apr 2021

New 'very high risk' category for countries with high Covid-19 numbers

1:54 pm on 23 April 2021

The New Zealand government is introducing a new category of a "very high risk country" - including India, Brazil, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea - to further bolster the country's defence against Covid-19.

Chris Hipkins

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announces the changes today Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

These changes come into force at 11.59pm on 28 April.

Countries will be initially designated 'very high risk' when there have been more than 50 cases of Covid-19 per 1000 arrivals to New Zealand from those countries in 2021, and where there are more than 15 travellers on average per month.

Only New Zealand citizens and their immediate family will be able to travel to New Zealand from these countries.

Watch the announcement from Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins here:

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today that any case at the border creates addition pressure on our border and managed isolation facilities.

"We have to provide a pathway for New Zealanders to come back...we would not restrict the right of New Zealanders to return home."

The accumulative risk to New Zealand from travellers from India has been looked at, said Hipkins.

"From India alone, this is expected to reduce the number of potential positive cases coming to New Zealand by an estimated 75 percent.

"We are talking about hundreds of people who could be affected by this."

He said the new category was "not an easy decision" and will be continuously reviewed.

Most managed isolation facilities will be moved to a group intake system, Hipkins said. This will see a MIQ facility starting empty, and then over 96 hours plane loads of people are transported to the hotel and once it's full - or after the 96 hours - the facility is locked down for two weeks.

The Pullman hotel will be the first hotel to receive cohorted arrivals, starting tomorrow.

Hipkins said more rooms in MIQ will remain empty because of the new cohort system.

"This is done purely based on a risk assessment."

"We've applied a formula," Hipkins said, adding that this was not a discriminatory measure.

The first assessment of high risk countries will take place within the next two weeks, Hipkins said.

The number of cases that have made it out of the border was very small, Hipkins said. But when there was more positive cases in MIQ this increased the risk, he said.

Flights from India have been suspended for almost two weeks and Hipkins had previously expressed a reluctance to extend the temporary ban beyond its expiry next week.

A two week ban on all travellers arriving from India began on 11 April after a surge in Covid-19 cases being reported at the New Zealand border, from people who had been in India.

This was despite pre-flight testing showing the travellers did not have the virus 72 hours before leaving.

India has now recorded the highest one-day tally of new Covid-19 cases anywhere in the world - and the country's highest number of deaths over 24 hours.

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