10 Sep 2021

Quarantine-free travel for vaccinated Pacific seasonal workers from next month

12:11 pm on 10 September 2021

Seasonal workers who have had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine will be able to travel to New Zealand from the Pacific without having to go through quarantine from next month.

RSE worker in a Hawke's Bay orchard.

Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

The RSE workers from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, however, will have to undergo Day 0 and Day 5 tests, and complete a self-isolation period of seven days, pending a negative day 5 result.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says those measures have been put in place to minimise the risk.

"We need to take a cautious approach to opening up quarantine-free travel with the Pacific. While Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu haven't had any community cases of Covid-19 we know first-hand how quickly Delta can spread if it gets in," Hipkins says.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor says the RSE workers will come to New Zealand in a cohort and stay in employer-arranged accommodation.

"This helps mitigate any additional risk from Covid-19 by ensuring they go into self-isolation in a pre-organised place immediately upon arrival."

Officials will be closely monitoring the first sage of one-way quarantine-free travel, O'Connor says.

"Our intention remains to broaden eligibility for quarantine-free entry to New Zealand from these countries and Tokelau when we can be sure it is safe to do so. In the meantime, other people entering New Zealand from these countries will need to meet existing MIQ requirements."

Incoming flights were deferred in August and September because of the Delta outbreak, O'Connor says.

University of Canterbury professor Michael Plank said the decision to allow seasonal workers from these countries without going into MIQ poses a very low risk.

However, Plank said the bigger danger would be people returning to these countries from New Zealand taking Covid-19 with them.

That's why the quarantine-free arrangement is one-way, to make sure we don't export Covid-19 to the Pacific, he said.

"That said, we've seen how easily Delta can breach border defences. So, it will be important that there is good surveillance testing in these Pacific countries so that, if community transmission is detected there, we can respond accordingly," he said.

When exactly the flights carrying the seasonal workers will arrived has not yet been confirmed.

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