Coronavirus: Epidemiologist calls for negative COVID-19 test for travellers from China to New Zealand


Epidemiologist Michael Baker says New Zealand should follow Australia and other countries in implementing a requirement for negative COVID-19 pre-departure tests for travellers from China.

China's switch last month from the "zero-COVID" policy that it had maintained for nearly three years led to infections sweeping across the country unchecked, with experts suggesting there was inconsistency between case and death numbers officially reported and what was happening on the ground.

The Chinese government has rejected claims that it has deliberately underreported the total number of fatalities.

A New Zealand public health risk assessment report due Monday will help officials decide whether to require a negative COVID-19 test result before departure.

Baker said the Government should follow Australia's lead so those coming from China would have to prove they were COVID-negative.

He said other countries - like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada - had also recently introduced pre-departure testing for travellers from China.

However, he warned that any policy changes for people travelling from countries with high COVID-19 cases should be carefully worded.

He said changes to the rules should apply to any country where case numbers were surging or where there was not enough information to know the situation and the proportion of the population with COVID-19.

"It will be important that the policy is framed in a way that it has thresholds."

Baker said China currently met both of those thresholds, but it was possible other nations would also have COVID-19 resurgences, particularly if new variants emerge.

Yesterday, NZ Government duty minister Stuart Nash said New Zealand's response would be proportionate to the potential risks from incoming travellers "and in the context of the international situation."

Beijing recently announced it would end quarantine requirements for inbound travellers arriving in China early this month, and it was downgrading wider control measures to slow the disease, shifting away from its strict zero-COVID strategy.

On Friday, the World Health Organisation repeated its calls for China to share detailed data with the rest of the world about its COVID-19 situation.

Health officials called for specific and real-time figures, details of hospitalisations, deaths and vaccinations, and more details about genetic sequencing results.