New Zealand may reopen borders in 2022 after full vaccination: government advisory group

Published August 11, 2021, 9:49 AM

by Xinhua

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s borders may reopen in phases in 2022 once the vaccination programme is fully rolled out by the end of 2021, according to the the expert advice of the government’s Strategic COVID-19 Public Health Advisory Group released on Wednesday.

The government released the expert advice of the Strategic COVID-19 Public Health Advisory Group led by Professor David Skegg on how to approach the reopening of New Zealand’s borders.

The advice, commissioned by Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall, suggests a phased re-opening of New Zealand’s border once the vaccination programme is fully rolled out, and sets out the preparatory work needed now.

“The emergence of the Delta variant has altered both the advice provided and our approach to reconnecting with the world,” Verrall said.

“We need to do more to further strengthen our borders and bolster our health defences, including through the vaccine rollout, before we can safely open the border further, and that will take a little more time to properly prepare.” Achieving high rates of vaccination is critical to providing protection for individuals from being infected and becoming seriously ill. It will support a safe re-opening of New Zealand’s borders by protecting whānau and the wider community, by making it less likely that the virus will spread, Verrall said.

The group recommends a phased approach to slowly admitting more travellers to New Zealand, without needing to go into MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine), based on risk-based factors such as their vaccination status and the state of the pandemic in their country of origin, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.

The group proposes these travellers to still be subject to a number of requirements, such as proof of vaccination, pre-departure testing and rapid testing on arrival in New Zealand.

The group recommends preparatory work to begin now, including seeking advice on rapid testing at airports, along with a strengthening of public health and social measures, such as expanding health system capability and contact tracing capacity, and mandating QR scanning at some types of venues — of which work is already underway by the government, Chris Hipkins said.

The advice also confirms the viability of maintaining Elimination Strategy as international travel resumes.

“The Elimination Strategy, defined as a zero tolerance to new cases, has served us incredibly well in keeping cases of COVID-19 out of the community and stamping out cases when they do arise,” Verrall said.

“According to the advice, continuing with our Elimination Strategy is not only viable, but optimal, as we re-open borders, and will be key to protecting New Zealanders and maintaining our future options,” she added.

The group, chaired by David Skegg, is made up of experts in epidemiology, infectious diseases and public health, and has provided independent advice on ongoing COVID-19 response.