Coronavirus: Simon Bridges predicts India ban will stay due to 'incompetently run' borders

National MP Simon Bridges expects the ban on arrivals from India to be extended because "the borders are being incompetently run".

But one expert says he hopes that isn't the case, because the opening of the travel bubble with Australia has freed up space in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ), potentially allowing arrivals from high-risk countries to be isolated from those coming from the rest of the world. 

The current ban was put in place earlier this month as a new wave of infections spread across the world's second-most populous nation, with arrivals testing positive around 10 times more frequently than arrivals from other countries. 

It's set to expire on April 28, but India's outbreak has significantly worsened in the meantime. The confirmed daily death figures have more than doubled, and there's evidence on the ground that might be just a fraction of the true toll. 

"I can announce for the Government what they're going to do today on the India travel ban - they're going to keep it going," Bridges told The AM Show. "A big part of that is because MIQ and the borders are being incompetently run".

Labour MP David Parker, appearing on The AM Show with Bridges, wouldn't be drawn on Cabinet's decision, expected to be revealed at 12pm on Friday. 

"I'm sure we'll be taking a cautious approach."

The Government had previously been reluctant to stop flights from any nation altogether, saying Kiwis had a right to come home. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the India ban was "not a permanent arrangement, but rather a temporary measure until we are able to better understand and manage the current situation we are facing and see if there are ways to reduce the risk that actually travellers themselves are facing".

University of Canterbury scientist Michael Plank, who's been involved in modelling the spread of the virus with research centre Te Pūnaha Matatini, said the risk is higher now than it was two weeks ago. 

"If there is going to be a resumption of travel from India, we need to see some strong safeguards put in place to try and negate the risk... a lot of people travelling from India will be infected."

With Australians now allowed to skip MIQ, he says there now might be space to free up an entire hotel for arrivals from high-risk countries. 

"I do hope that they do allow travel to resume."

Bridges and Parker on The AM Show.
Bridges and Parker on The AM Show. Photo credit: The AM Show

The Government brought in pre-departure test requirements in January, in an attempt to stem the flow of infected travellers arriving on our shores. But it made no difference, data from the Ministry of Health showed. 

National - which pushed for pre-departure testing long before the Government adopted it - now wants rapid antigen testing done at the airports immediately before take-off. There have also been calls from scientists - including high-profile epidemiologist Michael Baker - for pre-departure quarantine.

Dr Plank said while that would help, it might not be possible for people coming from India right now. 

"The trouble with all of those measures is they really depend on what is feasible logistically in India, what can be done, given that the country is in a massive outbreak at the moment. The amount of infection around is enormous. It will really depend on what's logistically possible."

Instead he expects tougher measures at the New Zealand end of the journey.

"Their hospitals are overflowing. All of their resources really are being consumed by just trying to keep people alive, to be honest. They don't have a lot of spare capacity to be putting on extra tests or worrying about quarantine systems."

The New Zealand Herald reports it understands the Government will lift the ban, putting arrivals from high-risk countries into MIQ together, just as Dr Plank suggested - or even keeping people on the same flight together, in case some caught it on the flight off others. 

The paper also reports additional places freed up by the travel bubble could be used for foriegn seasonal workers and international students. 

"The changes we're making for very-high-risk and high-risk arrivals... will have an overall effect," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday.