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Returnees from ‘higher risk’ countries to get extra Covid-19 test after discovery of new variant overseas

The Government this week will roll out an additional Covid-19 test for returnees in response to increasing case numbers overseas and the newly-identified, more contagious variant of the virus. 

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Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins says testing at day zero or one will be introduced. Source: 1 NEWS

Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins said an additional PCR test at day zero or day one for returnees from “higher risk countries” will be in place from midnight on December 31. 

It will apply to those who have been in the UK or the US any time in the 14 days before they arrive in New Zealand. 

Returnees will get the additional test at the airport or after they arrive at a managed isolation facility, Hipkins said. 

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The Government confirmed those from higher risk countries, like the UK, will be tested as soon as they arrive here. Source: 1 NEWS

“This new testing will be in addition to the current day three and day 12 tests. The returnees will also be required to be in isolation or quarantine in their allocated room at a facility until their initial test has returned a result,” he said.

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Hipkins said the early testing would allow people to be transferred to quarantine facilities earlier if required. 

“New Zealand has heightened concerns about the new variants of the virus and their potential to spread more rapidly, and the ongoing high rates of infection in some countries," he said.

“We’re seeing asymptomatic people coming across the border who are subsequently picked up in day three testing, so this will pick them up as early as possible. It will also help us identify earlier anyone who sat close to them on flights.”

He said pre-departure testing for people coming from the UK is also being investigated, with the Government aiming to roll it out from mid-January. 

Returnees would still need to quarantine for 14 days once they arrive in New Zealand, no matter their result, Hipkins said.  

“We’re aware this would present an extra hurdle for Kiwis planning to return and we’re not considering this lightly,” he said.

“An eventual safe travel zone with Australia and Realm countries will ultimately mean fewer people from lower risk countries staying in our managed isolation facilities, thereby allowing more people from higher risk countries to arrive. 

“Additional offshore risk measures including pre-departure testing would help us prepare for the increased risk such arrivals will bring to our facilities and to incoming flights.” 

Hipkins said other, higher-risk countries would be considered on a case-by-case basis.