Covid quarantine system: ‘We need an additional step’

New Zealand’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ quarantine system for arriving travellers needs to be changed, says an epidemiologist.

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker

Otago University Professor Michael Baker says the quarantine system needs to respond better to the risks posed by different travellers.
Photo: University of Otago Wellington / Luke Pilkinton-Ching​

Otago University Professor of public health Michael Baker said New Zealand should switch to a risk-based system.

People travelling from countries that had eliminated the virus, such as the Pacific, might not need a lengthy quarantine, Baker said.

Travellers from high risk areas, such as the UK or US, might need further measures before their 14-day stay in managed isolation in New Zealand.

“We need an additional step before those travellers get on flights to New Zealand,” Baker said.

“It might be a brief period in home quarantine and the need to have a negative test – just some steps to reduce the proportion of these people who are infected.”

The New Zealand Initiative think tank is calling on the government to ensure spaces in managed isolation are available for skilled workers.

Until last month, there were usually 1300 vacancies a day, but vouchers for inbound travellers to stay in managed isolation are now sold out until January.

New Zealand Initiative chairperson Roger Partridge said this was wasting opportunities, because businesses were desperate to bring in skilled workers.

Since June, more than half the 1600 requests for border exemptions under the worker category had been declined, he said.

“The managed isolation and quarantine facilities have been operating at significantly below capacity over the last couple of months,” Partridge said.

“There’s been more than enough capacity for MB to let through all the critical workers that firms have applied to bring into the country.”

The government needed to set aside spaces for key workers, he said.

Instead of officials evaluating the importance of applications, businesses should be able to bid in an auction system, Partridge said.

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