COVID-19: Epidemiologist Michael Baker backs pre-departure coronavirus testing for UK and US passengers

A top epidemiologist is backing plans to test travellers from high-risk countries for COVID-19 before they board flights  

From January 15, people travelling from the UK and the US must prove a negative test before they can cross the border into New Zealand's managed isolation facilities.

It comes after the new and more highly infectious strain of coronavirus from the UK was found in New Zealand.

The Ministry of Health said on Sunday six cases of the UK strain had been detected - all of whom were tested in managed isolation. The UK variant of coronavirus is known to spread more quickly but there's no evidence it's more harmful.

Michael Baker, from the University of Otago, has been calling for pre-departure testing for months and supports the extra measure.

Prof Baker.
Prof Baker. Photo credit: Newshub.

"I think this really greatly improves New Zealand's defences against importing COVID-19," he told Newshub on Sunday. "I think it's been the obvious next step."

All returnees will also be tested on their first day of arrival into the country.

"I think this change fills the biggest gap in our defences against this virus," Prof Baker said.

"If we can half or even reduce further the number of infected people getting on flights to New Zealand, that reduces the risk of outbreaks in this country very effectively."

And the measures will also be extended to other long haul destinations.

"Long haul travel at the moment with COVID-19 out there is a risky business and so, therefore, the more we can do to reduce the risk of people getting on planes with COVID-19 in the first place the more we reduce that risk," said Chris Hipkins, the minister in charge of the pandemic response.

Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub.

Meanwhile, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said on Sunday the new variant cases hadn't been treated any differently.

"Whilst this virus, this variant is more transmissible, about one and a half times more transmissible than the other variants, the protocols are the same," Dr Bloomfield told a news briefing.