The Government says it will expand the requirement for travellers to New Zealand to return a negative Covid-19 test result 72 hours prior to departure.

As it stands, this requirement will come into effect for anyone entering New Zealand from the United States or United Kingdom after January 15. Soon, this requirement will be in place for people travelling from anywhere other than Australia, Antarctica and a handful of Pacific Island nations. The specific Pacific Island countries to be exempted are Fiji, Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Nauru and Palau.

It is not clear when the new requirement will come into force for the rest of the world. In the meantime, people arriving from these locations on or after January 18 will be tested on arrival, in addition to the usual Day 3 and Day 12 tests in managed isolation.

“New Zealand already has some of the most stringent border protection measures in the world. Today’s amendments further strengthen that position in line with the Government’s overall elimination strategy,” Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.

“Given the high rates of infection in many countries and evidence of the global spread of more transmissible variants, it’s clear that most global air routes will be of critical concern for the foreseeable future, and we must respond strongly to the evolving situation.”

The move comes months after the National Party first advocated for the policy during the election. When the Government announced the more limited pre-departure tests for travellers from the US and UK, National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said it was a “sound decision” but that it needed to go further.

Airline staff will be asked to enforce the requirement “where practicable” and anyone who does manage to enter New Zealand from one of the countries subject to the requirement without evidence of a negative test would be liable to pay a $1000 fine.

Special exemptions have also been outlined for people with specific medical conditions, people who have previously had Covid-19 and recovered and children under the age of two. In addition to the highly-sensitive, gold standard PCR tests, the Government will also accept negative results from LAMP and viral antigen tests, which can be conducted much more quickly and are done in-house at some airports.

While the new order will require these tests to be processed in a lab, a spokesperson for Hipkins clarified that airport tests would still be permitted.

The news comes after ACT Party leader David Seymour called on the Government to impose stricter requirements within New Zealand. As daily testing numbers have slumped well below the Government’s 4000-tests-a-day benchmark and use of the NZ COVID Tracer app has diminished, Seymour said that scanning QR codes with the app should be compulsory when people want to enter a business or other premise displaying a code.

Nick Wilson, a University of Otago epidemiologist, also called on the Government to require managed isolation staff to download the app and enable its Bluetooth tracing functions.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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