The NZ Government will use the second half of 2021 to vaccinate as many New Zealanders as possible and safely conduct a self-isolation trial for vaccinated people in order to prepare for a phased resumption of quarantine-free travel, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.
A framework for re-opening borders and moving to an individualised risk-based model for quarantine-free travel was unveiled yesterday (Thursday).
The release of the plan followed the publication of the Strategic Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group’s advice to Government on Wednesday. The advisory group’s role is to provide independent scientific advice on the country’s ongoing Covid response.
“Getting vaccinated is the number one thing everyone can do to be protected against Covid-19, help accelerate our economic recovery, reduce the risk of lockdowns, and safely allow New Zealand’s borders to begin re-opening next year,” Ardern said.
“The plan … is informed by the best available scientific evidence and public health advice. It will allow us to capture the opportunities vaccination brings, while protecting the gains New Zealanders have worked so hard for.”
NZ cannot give up elimination approach too soon
The Prime Minister added: “Key to this is maintaining our Elimination Strategy. The advice is clear: If we open our borders now, we will lose the freedoms and advantages we have achieved so far.
“If we give up our elimination approach too soon, there is no going back and we could see significant breakouts here – like some countries overseas are experiencing who have opened up early in their vaccination rollout.
“Therefore, the first step in our plan is speeding up the vaccination process to ensure everyone is at least partially vaccinated as soon as possible to reduce the risk and impact of Delta entering the country.”
Ardern said the country was immediately moving to a six-week period between doses, meaning more people could get their first dose more quickly, ensuring everyone would be at least partially vaccinated in the coming months.
She emphasised that people who work at borders, had underlying health conditions, or wished to be fully vaccinated sooner could still get their second dose after three weeks.
“Once enough people are vaccinated, we will be able to start the next step in the plan: a phased introduction of an individual risk-based approach to border settings in 2022.
Three risk-based travel pathways unveiled by PM
“Low-Risk, Medium-Risk and High-Risk travel pathways will be created, and which pathway a traveller takes will be based on the risk associated with where they are coming from and their vaccination status. Each pathway will have testing and isolation requirements proportionate to that risk.”
According to the PM, the Low-Risk pathway will permit quarantine-free entry for vaccinated travellers who have been in low-risk countries, while the Medium-Risk pathway would include a combination of self-isolation and/or reduced MIQ for vaccinated travellers who have been in medium-risk countries.
“To prepare for the Medium-Risk pathway the Government will run a self-isolation pilot in the second half of this year to test processes and systems for the safe use of this tool,” she said.
“Businesses and organisations that need to send staff overseas will be invited to express interest in participating in the pilot which will run between October and December 2021.”
The High-Risk pathway will see the continuation of a full 14 days in MIQ and testing for unvaccinated travellers and any traveller, including vaccinated travellers, who have been in very-high-risk or high-risk countries.