Calls to restrict returnee numbers to avoid more Covid-19 outbreaks

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The National Iwi Chairs pandemic response group has called for the number of New Zealanders returning home to be restricted to 1500 a week, almost half the current number of returnees.

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Dr Rawiri Taonui says it is no longer sustainable to allow the current number of arrivals into the country. Photo: AFP

As of 8am, 27 January a total of 5483 New Zealanders were due to return home in the next two weeks.

National Iwi Pandemic Response Group principal adviser Dr Rawiri Taonui said it was no longer sustainable to allow this number of arrivals into the country.

“The important thing is that the Northland case and the two cases in Auckland, that’s the 11th outbreak in New Zealand and all our outbreaks have occured when the average number of returnees per week is over 2000, what that has caused is active cases in MIQ to be between 60 – 75,” Taonui said.

“That creates more pressure on the MIQ system and greater risk of transfer into the community.”

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There had been no breaches when the average number of returnees has been 2000 or lower, and the National Iwi Pandemic Response Group chose a lower number to take account of the more infectious strains from the UK and South Africa.

The contrast between New Zealand and Queensland – which had similar populations – was stark, Dr Taonui said.

Queensland, which has restricted returnees to 500 a week, currently only has 16 active cases in managed isolation.

The Iwi Chairs pandemic response group was also critical of pre-departure testing introduced on 16 January, which it said wasn’t working as passengers weren’t providing proof of a negative test.

Seventy passengers had arrived in New Zealand from the United States and Britain without providing proof of a negative test, since it was first introduced on 16 January – and 17 had tested positive in MIQ.

“It’s been cosmetic and it’s not working and we need something stronger,” Dr Taonui said, and he wanted all arrivals to be tested immediately when they land here.

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Advice from the Ministry of Health:

  • The recent cases of Covid-19 in Auckland and Northland have been linked to Managed Isolation and Quarantine. There is no evidence so far that suggests community transmission.
  • The locations visited by the recent cases can be found on the Ministry of Health website
  • To help stamp out Covid-19, it’s important the right people isolate and get tested
  • If you were at the locations of interest at the times stated, you need to: isolate away from others, call Healthline 0800 358 5453 for advice on when and where to get tested, and remain isolated until you have a negative test result
  • If you were not at a location of interest at the stated times and you have no symptoms you do not need to be tested
  • If you were not at any of the locations of interest at the stated times, but you have symptoms, call Healthline for advice on 0800 358 5453
  • If you are going to get tested, remember you may have to queue. Please take food and water and continue to be kind to each other and our public health team
  • Everyone should continue to scan QR codes using the Covid Tracer app and turn Bluetooth on to help stop the spread of Covid-19
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