COVID: Government could decide to end self-isolation for returnees within next month - Chris Hipkins

The Government is awaiting advice on the value of returnees to New Zealand undergoing self-isolation when the number of border cases being recorded daily is extremely small in comparison to the community cases detected.

On Thursday, while 6137 cases were recorded in the community, just eight were reported at the border. It's raised questions over what the point is of having returnees enter a form of isolation on arrival in New Zealand when so few are testing positive in comparison to those in the community. 

"We are days away from the border beginning its reopening for Australia and then very shortly thereafter followed by the rest of the world," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in a response to a question on Thursday. 

"We are reviewing the self-isolation requirements for people coming into the country. I don't have an announcement to make on that at the moment, we are getting advice on that about whether people should still need to self-isolate on arrival in New Zealand."

Hipkins said the Government expects that in the next week or two.

Asked if that means self-isolation for returnees could be dumped in the next months, Hipkins said: "Within the next month, we will certainly be making decisions on that."

The main purpose of the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system has been to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases entering the community. The Government earlier this month announced a phased shift away from MIQ to self-isolation for returnees in acknowledgement of the reduced risks, largely down to our highly vaccinated population and availability of boosters.

From next week, Kiwis returning from Australia will have to isolate for seven days upon arrival, while those elsewhere around the globe can bypass MIQ from mid-March. Tourists will again be able to visit by July.

Hipkins on Thursday also said that those later dates could be brought forward. Initially, tourists from Australia and other visa-waiver countries can return, before the border fully reopens in October.

"What we know from previous experience working with the airports and the airline, they need a reasonable amount of notice period," Hipkins said.

"If we were going to be shifting any dates, it's likely to be some of those later dates rather than some of the earlier dates simply for logistical reasons as much as anything else."

Under the proposed self-isolation scheme for returnees, those arriving in New Zealand will be given three rapid antigen tests (RATs) and must travel directly to their accommodation. They will need to report the results of the first two RATs, with any positive results followed up by a PCR.