New Zealand Urged to Complete Vaccinations Before Opening Border
(Bloomberg) -- New Zealand should complete its vaccine rollout before starting to re-open its border next year because of the risks posed by the more infectious delta variant of Covid-19, according to a group of health experts who advise the government.
The Strategic Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group has released a report recommending a phased reopening of the border once all adults have been offered vaccination, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in a statement Wednesday in Wellington. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to outline the government’s response to the recommendations at a forum on Thursday.
“The emergence of the delta variant has altered both the advice provided and our approach to reconnecting with the world,” said Verrall, who commissioned the report. “We need to do more to further strengthen our borders and bolster our health defenses, including through the vaccine rollout, before we can safely open the border further, and that will take a little more time to properly prepare.”
New Zealand has succeeded in eliminating community transmission of the virus by closing its border to most foreigners and requiring all those who arrive to undertake 14 days of quarantine. It has recorded 2,550 confirmed cases and just 26 deaths. Still, the border closure has decimated the key tourism industry, while Ardern’s plan to vaccinate the nation’s 5 million citizens has been slow to ramp up, with just over 20% of the population fully immunized so far.
The government aims to offer all adults vaccination by the end of the year, and the advisory group said a re-opening of the border should not commence before early 2022.
The group recommends that travelers be allowed in progressively based on risk factors such as their vaccination status and the state of the pandemic in their country of origin. They would need proof of vaccination, pre-departure testing and testing as soon as possible on arrival in New Zealand.
The group is urging that work start now to ensure rapid testing at airports, along with a strengthening of public health and social measures such as expanding health system capability, better contact tracing capacity, and mandating QR scanning at some types of venues.
Verrall said the advisory group has endorsed the government’s elimination strategy -- which it defines as having zero tolerance to new cases -- and that the strategy can be maintained as the border opens.
“In our current view, the elimination strategy is still viable and, indeed, optimal as international travel resumes,” the group wrote in the report. “Continuation of a successful elimination policy will require decisions about processing travelers and strengthening public health measures within the country.”
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