NZ Election 2020: Judith Collins' claims Samoa 'closed its borders a month before New Zealand' fact-checked as false

Judith Collins, attempting to land hits on Labour leader Jacinda Ardern during Wednesday night's Newshub Leaders Debate, claimed Samoa closed its border weeks before New Zealand in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

About 20 minutes into the televised debate, host Patrick Gower wanted to get the two leaders' thoughts on when a travel 'bubble' could be opened up with the Pacific.

"When will that be open for people to see their families or holiday - how quickly do you want to get the Pacific open?"

Collins answered: "A country like Samoa, it closed its borders a month before New Zealand did. So, so much for hard and early - they actually did."

Labour's social media team sprung into action, tweeting: "Judith claimed Samoa shut their border a month before New Zealand. FACT: We shut the border 19 March, Samoa followed on 20 March."

So who's right? 

Newshub asked National for proof of her claim. A spokesperson for Collins' office replied with a 'health travel advisory' issued by the Samoan government on February 28. It contained a list of 10 high-risk countries, asking citizens of those nations - or anyone transiting through them on their way to Samoa - to self-isolate for 14 days in a "country of last port that is free of the 2019 novel coronavirus" beforehand. 

China - where the virus was first discovered - was top of the list. 

New arrivals from these 10 countries would also have to show they'd had a COVID-19 test before arriving.

The advisory contained a second list, also of 10 countries, saying anyone who's from or transited through these nations has to get a health check within three days before arriving in Samoa. Cruise ships were also banned.

While these conditions were tough, they only applied to the 20 nations listed and cruise ships. Everyone else was free to travel into Samoa as normal. 

The restrictions mentioned in the February 28 release National supplied Newshub were already in place for some countries - that day's announcement simply added more. 

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub.

Samoa's first 14-day self-isolation order for mainland China was issued on January 27. New Zealand followed a week later, on February 3, with a tougher outright ban on anyone from or transiting through mainland China. It was the 11th country in the world to do so, defying advice from the World Health Organization, and came weeks before the first case was detected here.   

New Zealand announced all visitors would be subject to mandatory self-isolation from March 16, except visitors from the Pacific Islands. But the country shut its borders to non-residents completely just a few days later, on the night of March 19, Ardern saying too many visitors weren't following self-isolation guidelines. The Pacific Islands were included in the ban.  

Samoa followed suit the next day, as did its neighbour Tonga. 


While Samoa did introduce self-isolation rules for travellers from mainland China earlier than New Zealand, it is wrong to claim the country "closed its borders a month before New Zealand did", as Collins did on Wednesday.

New Zealand shut its borders to people from or transiting through mainland China nearly seven weeks before Samoa, and to all but non-residents a day before. 

The World Health Organization later praised New Zealand's "early and hard action" against the virus. Samoa's efforts have been a success too, with zero cases to date.