Why not UK and United States? Green MP Golriz Ghahraman questions if 'race is a factor' in India travel ban

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman is questioning if "race" is a factor in the Government's decision to ban travellers from India entering New Zealand for two weeks. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the temporary measure on Thursday after 16 cases of COVID-19 were picked up in travellers from India in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities. 

The ban will take effect from 4pm on Sunday, April 11, which will give the Government time to draft the legal orders required to enforce it. The temporary suspension will remain in place until Wednesday, April 28. 

Ghahraman questioned on Twitter why the Government didn't implement a similar ban on the UK and United States, where cases of COVID-19 have similarly been surging. She suggested "race" could be a factor in the decision.  

"Weird we didn't go with an all-out ban as an option for US or UK entries, given their harrowing rates on COVID," she wrote. "Our ethnic communities of South Asian origin need to know race isn't a factor in our COVID risk management."

Ghahraman said as the Green Party's ethnic communities spokesperson, she is "certainly calling it out" and highlighting that "these are New Zealanders returning home and being banned based on their country of origin". 

When a Twitter user suggested the travel suspension was based on scientific advice "rather than appearances", Ghahraman again used the US and UK as examples of discrepancies in the Government's response. 

"Then we would have had a similar ban on the US and UK based flights," she said. "There, the introduction of a requirement that passengers show a negative COVID test before boarding was employed." 

Ardern pointed to World Health Organisation global reporting showing that in just the last month, cases of the virus have been on the rise again after falling steadily over January and February, with surges in cases particularly in Brazil and India.

As the Hindustan Times reports: "India is witnessing a rapid spread of COVID-19 cases in the second wave. On Wednesday, the country logged more than 100,000 COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours for the second time this year, taking the tally to over 12.8 million cases."

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman.
Green MP Golriz Ghahraman. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Ardern said through late January until recently, the seven day daily average of cases in MIQ had been sitting at roughly two to three, which was manageable and did not put a strain on MIQ resources.  

However, since March the rolling seven-day average has steadily risen to around four to five cases a day and yesterday the rolling average was seven - a high we haven't seen since October last year.

Ardern said given the spike in MIQ cases, in recent weeks the Government has been reviewing its border settings to understand what can be done to better manage the risk. 

"I want to emphasise that while arrivals with COVID from India has prompted this measure, we are looking at how we manage high-risk points of departure generally," she said. 

"This is not a country-specific risk assessment but a risk assessment generally to ensure we better manage the number of cases that are coming from those countries that are experiencing a surge."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Ardern said during the temporary suspension, the Government will investigate options to manage risk of spread. It comes after a security guard at the Grand Millennium MIQ facility in Auckland tested positive on Thursday. 

The Government already requires a negative test from travellers in India and all other countries except Australia, Antarctica and most Pacific Islands. But officials have advised that travellers are likely picking up the virus on the way to the airport. 

"We have never previously suspended travel to New Zealand citizens and residents," Ardern said. 

"That's why I do want to assure you this is 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 to see if there are ways to reduce the risk that travellers themselves are facing as they embark on their journeys to New Zealand."

As questions emerge about the legality of the ban, Waikato University Professor of Law Al Gillespie says the key aspect is that it's temporary. 

As lawyer Graeme Edgeler notes: "This is not the first time NZ residents and citizens have not been permitted to return, as many New Zealanders who have tried to book places in managed isolation will know well."

But Prof Gillespie says the ban is no less significant. 

"We are in uncharted waters. Banning foreigners from named countries at the beginning of the crisis is one thing, banning Kiwis from returning from named countries, is another. So much will turn on what is decided in two weeks' time, when the temporary prohibition is examined."