Coronavirus: Who will need a pre-departure COVID-19 test and how will it work?

The Government has announced new rules for returning New Zealanders to protect those at home against COVID-19.

On Tuesday Minister for the COVID-19 response Chris Hipkins announced all Kiwis returning to New Zealand from overseas will soon need proof of a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test - but how will this work?

Currently, only those returning from the US and the UK need to provide evidence of a negative test - but the Government has given power to the Director-General of Health to require it of all returnees from anywhere in the world. 

The Government has not announced a date for when the pre-departure tests will be required, although Hipkins said on Tuesday it's likely to be less than a month away. 

Anyone overseas who is planning to come home should start to prepare to get tested, as they will soon need evidence of a negative test taken within 72 hours of their departing flight. 

Exceptions to the rules

If travellers are transiting through the US and UK, but remain in the airport and are there for fewer than 96 hours, they do not need to get a pre-departure test.

Children under two are also exempt, as are people who cannot be tested due to medical reasons.

However if you are unable to be tested due to medical reasons, you must see a doctor within 72 hours of departure and be examined for symptoms of the virus. 

If they are confident you are not symptomatic they must issue a medical certificate saying you are unable to be tested, but don't have symptoms. This will count as meeting the pre-departure requirements.

If you test positive, but suspect it's due to a prior infection, you will need a medical certificate from a doctor saying they are confident you're not currently infectious. This will also need to have the date of your previous positive test result.

When the requirements for pre-departure testing do come into force, some countries will still be exempt. These are Australia, Antarctica, Fiji, the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Nauru and Palau. 

What kind of test do you need?

New Zealand accepts PCR or RT-PCR tests, LAMP test or antigen tests - but all must be processed by a laboratory recognised in the country of origin as able to conduct tests.

If the flight is transiting through other countries the Government recommends double checking its regulations, as they may differ to those of New Zealand.

The test result or medical certificate you present to customs officials must have your name, date of birth, the date and time of your test, the name of the lab which processed it, the test type and of course - the all-important negative result.

It can be paper or electronic - but treat it with the same care and caution as your passport as you may be asked to show it at any point during your transit and of course, on arrival in New Zealand.

From January 18 all travellers from anywhere will need to provide a second negative test when they arrive in managed isolation - and until you can do so, you will be under strict isolation in your hotel room.

Even if you're not coming from the US or the UK, expect to be kept in your room until you can be tested. 

Once you have tested negative, you will be tested again on day three and day 12 of isolation before you can leave the facility. 

What happens if you fail to get tested?

If you are unable to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test or a medical certificate, you could be denied boarding. 

From January 29, anyone arriving from the US or UK without a negative test result could be fined up to $1000.

If your flight is cancelled you would still need a negative test result within 72 hours of departure of your new flight. If it's delayed by 24 hours or less, and you tested negative you will still be allowed to travel - even if the flight delay takes your result over the 72-hour window. 

What happens if you test positive?

If you have contracted COVID-19 it is likely you will not be allowed to board your flight. In this instance, you will need to postpone your travel and follow the health advice of whichever country you're in.

Once you've recovered, if you choose to travel again you will need a medical certificate which confirms you had a positive test, but have since recovered.