Ministry of Health boss confirms stronger border measures 'under active consideration' to combat COVID-19

The Director-General of Health has confirmed that stronger border measures for New Zealand are "under active consideration" as a public health expert says it's imperative to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Dr Ashley Bloomfield told the Epidemic Response Committee on Tuesday that while the "vast majority" of people "understand, accept and comply" with the lockdown expectations, there is room for improvement at the border. 

It comes after Police Commissioner Mike Bush told the group of majority Opposition MPs last week that not everybody coming into New Zealand had been followed up with by the police within three days to check if they have been self-isolating. 

Under the current border controls, anyone returning to New Zealand with symptoms of COVID-19 are tested and put into quarantine in hotels organised by the Government, while those without symptoms can return home if they have a self-isolation plan. 

National MP Michael Woodhouse told Dr Bloomfield he has heard reports of people in quarantine being allowed to leave their hotel, and the health boss said he is willing to follow-up to ensure the virus cannot spread.

"What's actually happening at the hotels?" Woodhouse, National's health spokesperson, asked. "It goes to the effectiveness of the border controls."

Dr Bloomfield said he understands how important it is that at alert level 4 and as New Zealand prepares for alert level 3, it will be "very important that we are not importing further cases into the country".

He said the response at the borer is "strong at the moment" but "clearly there are still other options available and what I can say is those are under active consideration".

National leader Simon Bridges, who chairs the committee, said it's questionable that someone could get off a plane in New Zealand and head straight to the supermarket where they could potentially spread the virus.

Dr Bloomfield said it's possible an arrival could do that, but they would have a "very clear understanding that they should not be there - that they should in fact be self-isolating at home".

Bridges told Dr Bloomfield he "can't have it both ways", criticising him for telling the committee there are plans to strengthen the border while also insisting the current border measures are working fine.

"I don't think I'm trying to have it both ways," Dr Bloomfield responded. "What I'm saying is that under the current arrangements there are really clear expectations and there have been for some weeks just as there are on all New Zealanders."

Health Minister David Clark said: "We cannot have people making exceptions to self-isolation because it suits them... but police are prepared to follow up where that's not happening."

It followed a plea from Otago University epidemiologist Sir David Skegg to strengthen the border arrangements because they "have not worked" and that if they are not tightened urgently the lockdown "will have to be extended".