COVID-19: Border restrictions eased for sportspeople and infrastructure project workers

By Gill Bonnett of RNZ

Participants in more than a dozen sporting events and workers in 60 infrastructure projects can now qualify to fly into New Zealand.

The list - which includes the Ironman competition and the junior badminton championships - shows which events are eligible for an exemption to travel.

Among infrastructure projects are hospital builds, water treatment plants and roading upgrades.

Workers on named Government-approved projects do not need to reach the $106,000 annual income threshold now needed to qualify for the exemption to travel as a critical long-term worker.

Participants and crew in sporting events such as the New Zealand Golf Open and America's Cup are also included, as are the women's rugby and cricket world cups next year.

Restrictions on partners of New Zealanders and on new workers at embassies have been eased.

The changes came into effect on Thursday. Companies are still expected to pay for the costs of quarantine, and RNZ has asked for those costs and whether overseas workers are being allowed to use hotels not among the managed isolation facilities.

Other exemptions for non-New Zealanders continue, including being able to apply on humanitarian grounds.

In a statement, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) said it recognised the border restrictions had resulted in hardship for many immigrants, including those who have been separated from their loved ones and those who have not been able to return to their jobs and homes.

"While we are empathetic to the situation these migrants find themselves in, any decisions to ease the border restrictions must be made based on what is best for all New Zealand.

"The changes - will allow more people to be eligible for an exception to the strict border restrictions, however, there will continue to be a number of individuals who will not meet the exception criteria to travel to New Zealand.

"INZ understands how difficult this will be for individuals who still don't meet the exception criteria. But the bar for being granted an exception to the border restrictions is set high to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of people already in New Zealand and INZ has no ability to apply discretion when considering requests against the strict border criteria decided by Cabinet."

A border expert says campervans, military facilities and islands formerly used for rehabilitation could be used to help quarantine New Zealanders on return to the country, and those arriving should help foot the bill.

Independent aviation commentator Irene King said the number of Kiwis returning home was expected to rise as the pandemic continued internationally.

Emirates will be the fifth airline to fly passengers into the country when it resumes three-weekly services to Auckland next month.

King said the Government would likely need more facilities for managed isolation but should not pay the total cost.

"There are different ways of setting up quarantine facilities, we've chosen hotels, but you can use the island in the Hauraki Gulf as an example of a quarantine facility that was used many years ago. We do have facilities that we can reactivate."

King said Kiwis returning home could foot some of the cost of staying in managed isolation for 14 days.

"When Kiwis come back across the border, I don't think it's a fair expectation the government picks up the 100 percent cost. Kiwis returning have to bear some of that cost."

She said the country needed a single border authority to manage screening and draft arrivals into quarantine.

"It has been a shambles and they should have sorted it out two or three months ago because it was the biggest known risk," King said.

"The lack of a single border agency in the future is going to be just as significant a requirement as it is today so it's time to make some structural changes about how we deliver a really robust border."

RNZ

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