COVID-19: Winston Peters attacks National's offshore testing scheme

Winston Peters is giving a scathing review of National's proposed offshore testing scheme, which would require returnees to get a negative COVID test before being allowed to head to New Zealand.

Speaking to Magic Talk host Peter Williams on Tuesday, the NZ First leader says the plan "defies all medical analysis".

"It's a worthwhile policy unless you rely upon it because being tested before you get on the plane showing no symptoms does not mean you're COVID free," he says.

"That's the great flaw in their argument and I'm surprised that with Dr Reti on board now after all this time that they have missed the dangers of relying upon testing offshore, the person yet to show symptoms or picking up symptoms on the way through in the long transit.

"Yes it's a protection and we could enforce that as well but to think that someone is therefore COVID-free defies all medical analysis."

Unveiling the policy last week, National leader Judith Collins said tough times need tough measures and we need to protect New Zealanders who are currently in lockdown or who are in hospital.

"I'm making it very plan: they need to get a test," she said. "We're dealing with a situation where we are looking at an economic crisis... they can come home but they need to get a test - and that's important... they're going to have to find a way to get a test."

But Peters says there are a limited number of places in the world where Kiwis can be assured of getting the required testing done.

"If you're in South Africa or the Middle East how are you going to get home?" he asks.

"Already they've put an enormous impediment on people because they can't get to the agency and yet I heard the National Party say 'well they'll just have to fix themselves up before they get back to this country'.

"That means it'll be absolutely impossible. They could be COVID-free, they can't get a test because of the nature of the country where they are."

The National Party border plan:

  • Establish Te Korowai Whakamaru/NZ Border Protection Agency 
  • Require international travellers to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in New Zealand
  • Strive towards a test-on-demand system with a waiting time target of no longer than 60 minutes for a COVID-19 test result
  • Prepare a more effective response to future outbreaks, should they occur, allowing lockdowns to be more targeted and shorter in duration
  • Widen the availability of testing nationwide

Criticism from other parties

Both Labour and the Greens have slammed National's border policy, Labour describing it as "fraught", while the Greens calling it "deeply disappointing".

"They also make the incorrect assumption that tests are easily accessible overseas," said Green Party immigration spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman. 

"We know that in many places, including the United States and even parts of Australia, testing is hard to access or very expensive. It could leave New Zealanders stranded overseas indefinitely."

"One of the things that makes that fraught is that we've seen instances of people being infected in transit, so if you take someone leaving London, for example, they may go through several airports and it may take them a process of two or three days to get home, in which case they can become infected during that time," added Health Minister and Labour MP Chris Hipkins.

However National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti told Newshub Nation on Saturday the party "checked where most of our arrivals come from, those points of departure, whether it's legitimate to be able to do that within 72 hours, and we think it can be done".

"The policy will stand on its own merits. I think New Zealanders can look at it and say, 'We understand that'," he said.

"We think it's a good idea to have point-of-departure testing before people hop on a plane, and we think on its merits, the policy stands on its merits. New Zealanders can tyre kick it."