Public discussion needed on how to safely reopen NZ's borders - Sir Peter Gluckman

Former chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman, former Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe are calling for a public discussion on how to safely re-open New Zealand's borders.

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The former chief science advisor has teamed up with Helen Clark and Rob Fyfe in a new paper. Source: Breakfast

In a paper released today, the trio are encouraging a new approach to border control amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The document's key points suggest a huge negative impact on New Zealand's economic and social wellbeing if we remain closed indefinitely.

Waiting for a Covid-19 vaccine isn't a realistic option, as it could take years to arrive and won't be 100 per cent effective, the trio say.

Sir Peter Gluckman. Source: 1 NEWS

They suggest changing our view of what "success" looks like when it comes to containing Covid-19, such as moving away from the "stamp it out" strategy of keeping New Zealand entirely virus-free.

Instead, the authors of the paper advocate a more tailored, risk-based approach to border control; accepting Covid-19 cases will occur and making sure there are systems in place to catch it before it gets embedded in the community.

Sir Peter says it's a hard discussion to have and he's wary about important questions being reduced to a political debate.

"All of us are concerned that the messaging is going to get conflated with the political process," he told TVNZ 1's Breakfast this morning.

"Whatever we decide to do, there's a lot of work to get there... We have to figure out ways to cope long-term with cases coming up."

The National Party has been pushing for the borders to be reopened for some time. Leader Todd Muller says keeping the border completely closed for 12 to 18 months is "simply untenable".

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But Ms Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that would be "dangerous".

At the moment, entry is restricted largely to New Zealand citizens or permanent residents.

There are some ways to apply for an exemption, such as if your partner is a citizen or permanent resident.

All arrivals still need to undergo a 14-day period, including returning two negative Covid-19 tests, in a Government-managed isolation facility.

New Zealand currently has 18 active Covid-19 cases, all of which were caught at the border in the aforementioned facilities.

The current criteria for reopening the border needs the other country to be free of community transmission, with the ability to rapidly contact trace and a rapid testing turnaround, Ms Ardern said on Tuesday.

Sir Peter says we could look to other countries for ways to safely allow international arrivals back in.

He points to Taiwan, which only requires a five-day quarantine period for low-risk arrivals under particular circumstances.

"That changes the dynamic [of who will arrive]," Sir Peters says.

"Over the next few weeks and months, we have to develop an understandable and concerned approach [about] under what conditions we open the borders to some people."

He also calls for a change in public perspective and messaging, so people understand that a new case doesn't have to be the be-all, end-all.

"Elimination doesn't mean having no cases, it means having the occasional case here we can cope with," Sir Peter says.

"We shouldn't get angry, we shouldn't get disappointed... We've just got to be prepared for it."

The full paper, titled Re-Engaging New Zealand with the World, can be found online here.