Coronavirus: Why returning COVID-free New Zealanders have to isolate but Aucklanders can travel over border

The threat of accelerating the spread of COVID-19 out of Auckland is why New Zealanders returning from overseas still have to go into managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ).

New changes to MIQ mean time spent in a facility will be halved to seven days for fully vaccinated overseas arrivals from November 14, followed by a short period of self-isolation at home of around three days. People will be tested three times during their MIQ stay and once during home isolation.

Then, in the first quarter of 2022, home isolation will be increasingly used for fully vaccinated arrivals.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says there are different risk settings involved in relying on home isolation for overseas arrivals, which is why he's waiting until next year to introduce it.

"We don't want to accelerate the spread of COVID-19 out of Auckland by prematurely making changes to the international border," he said during Thursday's 1pm COVID-19 update.

"So what you've seen, and my remarks just now and the statement I've put out, is that we are linking that to moving to the new traffic light system. So once we get those high rates of vaccination, at that point, I'll think you'll start to see quite a bit more change at the border."

But Hipkins says there are no isolation requirements for people leaving Auckland because doing so could potentially shut down supply lines throughout the country.

"There are a variety of issues we have to grapple with in a domestic boundary that we don't have to grapple with quite as much at the border," he says.

"I think New Zealanders will also understand that we don't want to accelerate the spread of COVID-19 around the country while we are still getting our vaccination rates up.

"So yes, I acknowledge there's a lot of pressure there. My message to people who are keen to get back into New Zealand is there isn't very long to wait now and encouraging their fellow New Zealanders to get vaccinated will help us get to that point faster."

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Getty Images

Hipkins adds that something the Government has been looking at is whether there should be vaccination requirements for inter-regional travel, particularly on flights. 

"One of the things that you do need to allow for is that there will be some essential travel required and you wouldn't necessarily want to cut people off from that essential travel if they haven't been vaccinated, but we're working our way through that at the moment."

But rather than letting international arrivals enter the country and go straight into home isolation, the priority right now is safely transitioning to the new traffic light system, Hipkins says, a system that relies on vaccination rates rather than lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"When the COVID-19 Protection Framework is bedded in, 90 percent of eligible New Zealanders will be fully vaccinated so we will have a higher level of confidence than we do right now of allowing international arrivals to go straight into the community," he says.

"A phased approach also gives us time to evaluate the technology that'll be used to monitor home isolation compliance in the business home isolation pilot, which starts at the end of this month."