Patrick Gower on coronavirus: Quarantine border arrivals now or waste our sacrifice

OPINION: I am nervous and worried about the border - it is way too loose, and clearly our weakest link in the fight against COVID-19.

I just don’t understand why we aren’t fully quarantining all the Kiwis that come home from countries full of coronavirus.

Those returning should all face 14 days of monitored quarantine so we can be sure they won’t infect the rest of us. 

We need a proper seal on the border, rather than the current "honesty box" policy in which the highest risk people promise to go home and self-isolate.

We are making all these sacrifices for the lockdown - and it is clearly working. 

But why should people lose their business, their jobs and their family connections if it could all be ruined by someone slipping through the border?

All our efforts could go to waste because the Government won't put in relatively minor controls.

As we move towards ending the lockdown, a sealed border is even more important. We could then focus on stamping out the COVID-19 that is here, knowing that no more is coming in.

Surely New Zealand's goal right now is to be the only developed country that is fully operational internally during the pandemic.

Sure, the economy wouldn't have international tourism - but we would have a society where people could go out as normal and work and spend money. Our health system wouldn't be at risk, we'd be healthy, we'd be exporting - and most importantly we would be happy.

I am not talking about putting people on Somes Island here. A two-week monitored quarantine in a hotel or Top 10 motor camp with wifi and groceries delivered is a small sacrifice for those coming home. They will be so happy to be here that they couldn't care less.

We know from the data that the biggest cause of COVID-19 in New Zealand is overseas travel.

But when a Kiwi comes home, we rely on their honesty: they fill in a form, answer some questions, and if they have a self-isolation plan they can get in a car and drive off. If they live further away, they can get a plane. It is plain crazy, but over 3600 people have done it already.

Because we all know self-isolation means going to the service station, the supermarket or the pharmacy. It might mean giving Mum a sneaky hug when you are feeling fine on Day 10. 

All we need is for someone to accidentally slip through, and coronavirus is let loose. Look at the Bluff wedding - over 50 people in one go. We certainly don’t want to come out of the lockdown and face returning Kiwis slipping in and causing clusters all over the show.

Police are meant to check on those coming home, but have admitted they aren't. Let's just keep things simple - just take the pressure off the police and put the quarantine in.

Over the longer term, we could test everybody coming in - once clear, you are good to go.

This could eventually be a template for international visitors and potential small-scale tourism.

The lockdown is costing our economy $5-8 billion dollar by some estimates. But quarantine would only cost us a few million.

Sealing the border has no downsides - it is such a no-brainer that I can't work out why we haven't done it.

Being an island nation and able to control our borders is our birthright as Kiwis. We should not waste it.

Right now is our chance not just to 'flatten the curve', but to be way more ambitious and look to defeat the virus.

By quarantining the border we can save our health and economy - and we could be the best country in the world.

Patrick Gower is Newshub's national correspondent.