Latest on MIQ COVID-19 case and Government's controversial India travel ban

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins is defending the Government's decision to impose a suspension on travel from India - a country currently ravaged by coronavirus.

The Government said New Zealand has recorded more than 60 cases in MIQ in the past fortnight, many of whom were travellers from India.

This comes after the country recorded a new community COVID-19 case on Thursday - an MIQ worker who was yet to be vaccinated.

What you need to know:

These live updates have now finished.

1:40pm - It's been exactly one year since New Zealand introduced the MIQ system amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over that time, around 130,000 Kiwis have passed through the two-week isolation process in the 32 nationwide facilities.

"A little over a year ago, no-one could have envisaged what it would take to protect New Zealand from a fast-growing, deadly pandemic," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.

"The facilities have proven to be a cornerstone of our response and instrumental in allowing New Zealanders to return home while largely keeping COVID-19 out of the country."

He said the general success of the system is due to the thousands of workers involved, who he called "heroes".

"The cleaners, security guards, NZDF personnel, nurses, police, social workers and many others, have worked tirelessly to ensure the system has functioned as well as it has."

Joint head of managed isolation and quarantine Megan Main said staff had demonstrated "extraordinary ingenuity and adaptability".

"There was no playbook for this - we've been building this plane while we've been flying it - often responding to very volatile and unpredictable circumstances.

"Of course, things haven't always gone smoothly... But, as has been the case throughout, our team has learned fast, identified and then plugged the gaps."

1:25pm - The COVID Tracer App, which recently launched a new 'gamified' update, has now reached 2,777,191 registered users. This is up from 2,776,116 users on Thursday.

"Total poster scans have reached 243,273,592 and users have created 9,087,677 manual diary entries," the Ministry said.

"In the 24 hours to midday yesterday, there have been 818,078 poster scans."

1:15pm - Of the six new border cases, four arrived from India via the United Arab Emirates on April 7, following the trend of cases arriving from the country recently.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases detected at the border is 8, the Ministry said.

Another six confirmed cases have recorded, bringing the total number of active cases in New Zealand to 95.

Latest on MIQ COVID-19 case and Government's controversial India travel ban

1:12pm - None of the Grand Millennium worker's contacts have tested positive so far. Ten close contacts have been identified and five have returned negative test results, the Ministry said.

The worker has now been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility as a precaution, while investigations continue.

"Auckland public health officials have carried out scoping interviews with the case to determine any locations of interest. At this stage, there are no locations of interest to report. If any locations of interest are identified, we will update the Ministry's website and send out push notifications."

1:08pm - The Ministry of Health confirmed there are no new community cases of COVID-19 and six new cases in managed isolation.

12:55pm - The Ministry of Health is expected to release a press statement at 1pm with a COVID-19 update.

12:45pm - Paul Patel, the president of the NZ Indian Central Association, told Newshub on Friday he backs the Government's temporary travel ban on India.

While many people have expressed frustration with the suspension, Patel said he understood why Jacinda Ardern decided to introduce the measure.

"The amount of travellers returning from there compared to the amount of travellers that are testing positive on day zero, the numbers are very high from India."

He said he understood there were some "sad stories" about people now trapped overseas, but said most of those who would have travelled will be okay.

"The majority will be able to cope with this unexpected two-and-a-half-week period. Yes, there are some that probably want to get here, but I think they need to realise... you're going under your own free will. 

"When we leave the shores here, during this COVID period we need - as travellers, as New Zealand citizens - need to be aware it is our issue. It is not always our Government's issue... this is only a short-term measure."

Read the full story here.

12:25pm - Some countries, including Australia, have recently stopped using the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 50 years old after European authorities confirmed a link between it and blood clots.

When asked what that means for New Zealand, Ardern said independent health officials are currently assessing the vaccine but it has not yet passed the checks.

"Currently, there is only one vaccine that has been approved by Medsafe and that's the Pfizer vaccine."

12:15pm - Ardern wouldn't say what the "personal reasons" were that made the security guard who tested positive on Thursday miss two vaccination appointments.

"I think it is more important that I leave the health to those on the ground who are working directly with the individuals to explain those issues rather than me interpret them."

12:05pm - She defended the suspension, saying she didn't think they had misled New Zealanders by saying they are always welcome home.

"We have a higher number of people coming back to New Zealand than, for instance, Australia. We have worked very hard to make sure we can do that but we want people to be safe in their journey and at the moment I cannot guarantee that."

Her message to Kiwis stuck in India is to hold tight as it is only a temporary suspension.

12:02pm - Ardern says she hasn't received any advice suggesting that the Government should extend the two-week travel suspension on flights from India.

11:58am - Jacinda Ardern has arrived for the press conference and says travellers arriving in New Zealand from India before the Sunday suspension kicks in, will not have any special treatment.

"For those flights that will continue to come in before the new suspension comes in place, they will have the same level of precuation and care as everyone else," she says.

"We treat every international arrival as if they have COVID-19 and that doesn't change."

11:35am - Jacinda Ardern will be fronting a press conference at the opening of the National Telehealth Service Auckland Centre at around 11:45am. She is expected to answer questions on the COVID-19 response afterwards.

11:20am - Some Kiwis in India have expressed their devastation at the announcement of the travel suspension keeping them from entering New Zealand for two weeks from Sunday.

Manish, who travelled from Auckland to Delhi in February to care for his sick father, said the temporary travel ban feels like a punishment.

He was due to board his flight home, back to his wife and young daughter, on Monday morning.

"You play by the book, you play by the rules, you do everything right... and suddenly, something is thrown at you and you're left to fend for yourself."

Florence Deepa, who travelled to Bangalore in March to take care of her mother, is worried she will lose her MIQ space booked for May. 

"I was shocked. I was confused because I understand the decision but… there are no options given to us, there are no alternatives. I don't know what I can do next," she told The AM Show on Friday. 

"I did believe that when the Prime Minister said that she would not stop any New Zealander coming back to the country, I believed that.

"I did everything right. I am part of the five million, I was there when the lockdown happened. I know the loss and the job losses that New Zealanders have had to go through, so I am with it. I'm not saying I don't support the ban… but the decision that was made just came as a surprise."

10:30am - Jacinda Ardern spoke to supporters in a Facebook Live video last night where she reflected on her "unexpected" Thursday.

In regards to the India travel suspension, Ardern said the Government had tried to find out why there seemed to be a significant number of travellers from India testing positive after they arrived in New Zealand.

"Was it that we were getting inaccurate pre-departure testing information? Was it that testing was being conducted in a different way? We haven't been able to get to the bottom of that but we are still concerned enough about the number of cases coming through, particularly from India, that we decided what we need to do is suspend those flights for a short period of time."

She assured that the Government would have taken the same action no matter what high-risk country it was.

"Would it have been Brazil - anywhere - we would have done exactly the same thing. It's not about the place, it's about the risk."

Host Duncan Garner.
Host Duncan Garner. Photo credit: The AM Show

9:40am - The AM Show host Duncan Garner has thrown his support behind the Government's controversial travel suspension on travellers from India.

"I wholeheartedly endorse and support the Prime Minister's decision," he said on Friday morning.

"The risk to New Zealand is deemed too great. There were twenty-three cases of COVID in our managed isolation in one day and 17 of those came from India. Some people are picking up COVID on the flight to New Zealand - no thanks."

He urged Jacinda Ardern to consider banning travellers from other high-risk countries as well.

"Brazil could be next but our policy continues to be that we import COVID into the country potentially daily and we somehow hope to stop it at the border facilities.

"I'm glad we're blocking passengers from India - it puts the majority of New Zealanders first."

Read the full opinion piece here.

9:10am - Israel has recently introduced a system where residents receive a 'green pass' when they get vaccinated.

"It allows you to get into certain venues - gyms, theatres, indoor seating at restaurants - and it's just to create a kind of COVID-safe place as much as possible… you carry it around or you can download a version on an app," The New York Times Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner told The AM Show.

She admitted enforcement of the passes is "a little patchy", but it also allows people to get into events where vaccines are required.

"It was what the Tel Aviv city called 'the comeback of culture'. They put on a weekend series of concerts and I was at one. Five hundred people [attended]... now I think they are able to have up to 3000 people in an arena of that size. It was so much fun after a year of not being in the company of more than two or three people at the time."

8:40am - Watch Chris Hipkins' full interview with The AM Show below.

8:25am - On vaccine, Hipkins said health officials are working with MIQ facilities to ensure all border workers are vaccinated. Those that aren't will be moved out of frontline roles.

"That takes a bit of time… and then ultimately when you identify the people that work there that haven't been vaccinated, there is still a process you have to go through - it's an employment process."

However, he revealed 100 percent of the people in NZ's Defence Force who are working at the border have been vaccinated. For police staff at the border the figure is around 94 percent, and aviation security around 96 percent.

"Some of the lower numbers we are seeing are in the contracted workforces so the people who are working for the hotels or the security firms and so on. So we are working through that." 

Hipkins said the rollout will be ramping up over the coming weeks, and will again scale-up in July when big batches of the vaccine start arriving from overseas weekly. 

8:10am - Hipkins wouldn't rule out an extension to the suspension, which is currently in place until April 25.

He also acknowledged the decision was different from the Government's previous stance on international travel.

"It is a little bit of a change of position. We've always said that we wouldn't stop citizens and residents from coming home - we are not but we've also said that their travel may be delayed or disrupted.

"This is a clear case where their travel is going to be disrupted for a period of time."

8am - "It's important to note that this is a temporary restriction and as you've pointed out it's not a decision that we've taken lightly," Hipkins told The AM Show.

"Ultimately what we've seen in the last few weeks is a real spike in the number of positive cases coming in from India, we are not seeing that from anywhere else in the world." 

Hipkins said pre-departure testing had lowered the number of COVID cases coming into the country from other countries, however, many people travelling from India were contracting the virus right before departure and bringing it to New Zealand.

He told The AM Show the suspension of travel from India was "a very, very big decision to make" and the Government "didn't make it lightly".

"I absolutely acknowledge that this is really difficult. It will mean that people are delayed. It is not permanent." 

He said the suspension is just a part of travelling during a pandemic. 

"Ultimately we can't sustain the level of positive cases that we have had coming in on a daily basis now for a couple of weeks, we have to do something to change that."

7:45am - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins is speaking to The AM Show on Friday morning. He defended the Government's decision to suspend travel from India.