COVID-19: Returnees from higher risk countries to face extra testing amid concerns over new coronavirus variant

The additional regulations were announced on Monday.
The additional regulations were announced on Monday. Photo credit: Getty

Some returnees will face more frequent tests for COVID-19 to provide additional protections at New Zealand's border following the emergence of a new coronavirus variant in the UK.

The additional regulations, announced by COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on Monday, will apply to returnees from the UK and other high-risk countries such as the US. It requires them to undergo a mandatory test on day one of their stays in managed isolation, in addition to the days three and 12 tests already in place.

Hipkins said plans are also underway to implement pre-departure tests for people leaving the UK for New Zealand. 

"We've been monitoring overseas developments very closely, and, like many other countries, New Zealand has heightened concerns about the new variants of the virus and their potential to spread more rapidly, and the ongoing high rates of infection in some countries.

"The extra PCR test will be applied on 'day zero', as returnees who've been in the United Kingdom or the United States during the preceding 14 days go through New Zealand airport controls, or on 'day one', after they arrive at a managed isolation and quarantine facility."

Thought to be more contagious, the new coronavirus variant emerged in the UK earlier this month. It's prompted several countries in Europe and other parts of the world to impose travel restrictions on passengers from Britain.

Hipkins said earlier testing will ensure any cases are detected as soon as possible.

"While growing travel restrictions are being imposed in countries that host airport hubs and by airlines themselves - which block routes to New Zealand for the overwhelming majority of travellers from higher-risk countries - the New Zealand Government is taking this extra precautionary step to provide another layer of protection and to support our goal of making summer unstoppable."

The changes will come into force from midnight on December 31. Pre-departure tests for people leaving the UK for New Zealand, meanwhile, should be in place by the middle of next month, Hipkins said.

"Returnees will still need to go through our 14-day managed isolation and quarantine process, on arrival in New Zealand.

"We're aware this would present an extra hurdle for Kiwis planning to return and we're not considering this lightly. 

"An eventual safe travel zone with Australia and realm countries will ultimately mean fewer people from lower-risk countries staying in our managed isolation facilities, thereby allowing more people from higher-risk countries to arrive."