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Highly contagious Covid-19 variants prompt calls for heavier restrictions at border

Three highly contagious Covid-19 variants in the UK, South Africa and now Brazil have prompted calls from experts to change how the Government manages returning Kiwis at the border.

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Epidemiologist Michael Baker wants NZ to limit the number of people entering for a while. Source: 1 NEWS

“This is now the most dangerous period for New Zealand,” leading New Zealand epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker said.

Baker says it’s time to limit the number of people entering New Zealand.

“We're taking five times more arrivals than Australia is per capita at the moment,” he said.

“Australia halved their intake of travellers from overseas because of this risk.”

The National Party is now calling for people from higher-risk countries to stay at separate isolation hotels.

“We’ve just got to do everything we can to make sure that these new, contagious strains of Covid-19 don’t make their way into the New Zealand community,” National Covid Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said.

Auckland University professor and modeller Shaun Hendy said the move is “something the Government should be considering.” 

“Certainly, we wouldn't want to see those variants passed on to other people in MIQ,” he said.

New Zealand has since adopted a risk-based approach at the border, with people from the UK and US requiring a negative Covid-19 test 72 hours before boarding a plane home.

The Government says it will continue to adapt and create more tailored border protections - depending on risk - as it learns more about the virus.

1 NEWS has also obtained some figures showing that not everyone who has stayed at managed isolation facilities has paid.

As of January 10, there had been 5200 invoices sent. A further 335 invoices are now overdue, totaling $988,000, and the total value of invoices paid was about $3.6m.

Despite being owed nearly a quarter of what it should be making, agencies are waiting nearly six months before referring overdue payments to debt collectors.

Bishop said while “180 days does sound like a reasonably long time to me, many businesses would go after bad debts sooner than that.”

More than 2000 people have had their fee waived for special exemptions.