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Kiwis stuck overseas are gutted because they will still need an MIQ stay if they fly in to Auckland, where almost 300 Covid cases are already in home isolation.
The Government is also under pressure to tighten the Auckland boundary, following an unvaccinated person taking the virus from Auckland to Christchurch.
Christchurch remains in level 2 because public health officials are confident, for now, that the two new cases there can be contained without a lockdown.
But it’s just the latest example of the virus leaking out of Auckland. It has already spread to Waikato, Palmerston North and Northland.
“I just find it unbelievable that we are allowing unvaccinated people out of Auckland to travel – for whatever reason,” said Dr Apisalome Talemaitoga, chairman of the Pasifika GP network.
“People should be doubly vaccinated before they can do this.”
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Hipkins has said that a vaccination mandate was too hard, logistically and operationally, given the tens of thousands of vehicles crossing the Auckland boundary every day.
But yesterday he said requiring people flying out of Auckland to be fully vaccinated was being considered, and was “probably one of the easier” measures that could be brought in.
Te Pūnaha Matatini principal investigator Dion O’Neale also suggested people leaving Auckland should self-isolate until a negative test, but Hipkins said the country’s supply chains need to run smoothly.
There were 89 community cases yesterday, including 83 in Auckland, four in Waikato and the two in Canterbury.
The Government has been facing calls to allow overseas arrivals in Auckland to self-isolate at home, given the risk of a fully vaccinated returnee who has tested negative compared to a Covid-positive case in home isolation.
But Hipkins announced a blanket seven-day MIQ stay for all returnees, which would come into effect from November 14; only one in 2000 returnees test positive after a week in MIQ.
Anyone flying in from overseas will spend seven days in MIQ and be tested three times, on day zero or one, day three, and a rapid antigen test on day six or seven.
They can then home-isolate and receive a PCR test on day nine, and end their isolation if that comes back negative.
Any non-New Zealand citizen will need to be fully vaccinated to fly in from November 1.
The changes will add up to 1500 MIQ rooms a month, but the increase in rooms for returnees is not expected to be substantial, and will depend on how bad the outbreak in Auckland becomes.
Quarantine-free travel will also be available from November 8 for people flying in from Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga and Tokelau, as long as they have the right to reside permanently in New Zealand. Non-New Zealand citizens must be fully vaccinated.
MIQ stays for returnees will start to be phased out early next year, after the 90 per cent vaccination targets for each DHB have been met.
“The changes are at best a small step forward and at worst woeful,” said Martin Newell of Grounded Kiwis, which represents thousands of Kiwis stuck overseas.
“They only add to the anguish of tens of thousands of Kiwis locked out of New Zealand. The Government has walked away from the scientific basis for MIQ, given that it keeps fully vaccinated travellers in hotels and Covid patients at home.”
Proof of vaccination should be a ticket to home isolation, he said.
But the Government said it was too logistically complicated to set different rules for returnees depending on where they lived.
“Effectively trying to set up two international borders – one for those coming into Auckland and one for those coming into the rest of the country – would be a pretty challenging exercise,” Hipkins said.
“And by the time you did it, we might not even need it.”
He said the cases in Waikato continued to be “challenging”, given that the virus was circulating in the kind of marginalised communities that saw the outbreak in Auckland creep along, and then spread through the city.
Public health experts have long warned that such communities – described by Auckland public health physician Nick Eichler as ones “that mainstream society forgot” – were more vulnerable to outbreaks.
Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said health teams on the ground in Waikato were trying to learn the lessons of what happened in Auckland.
“We are working with communities that traditionally we haven’t engaged with as well as we should have. And I think that is one of the lessons we need to take away from the pandemic.”
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