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Risk 'low' Kiwis returning from Victoria will have Covid-19, expert says

Pre-flight testing will ensure the chances of people spreading Covid-19 from Melbourne to New Zealand are low, an epidemiologist says.

Melbourne Airport's check-in zone. Source: istock.com

From midnight tonight, New Zealanders will be allowed to return home from Melbourne on special "green flights", despite ongoing lockdowns and community outbreaks in Victoria.

The flights are only available to residents, critical workers and those with humanitarian exemptions and all travellers must test negative for Covid-19 before boarding.

The flights are happening as Victoria is battling to trace multiple clusters, including the first community cases discovered in Australia of the more infectious Delta variant — which has spread rapidly through India and the UK.

The two new community cases reported in Victoria today brings the total in the current outbreak to 85.

The government is due to review the travel pause with Victoria tomorrow.

Epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely, who is based in Melbourne, said while the situation remains "touch and go" in the city, he is confident it is heading in the right direction.

The number of exposure sites — at around 300 — is concerning, however, the number of sites being confirmed has slowed considerably.

The risk to New Zealand was low, he said.

"There is always going to be a risk that somebody might sneak through the net.

"But it's a very low chance. There's less than a one in a million chance that somebody's going to get on the plane and unwittingly take it back to New Zealand, particularly with the testing that will be required ... I think the New Zealand decision is sensible."

Blakely said that once travellers returned, they should wear masks for the first week and be tested immediately if any symptoms occurred.

It could be expected that the Delta variant would "get out from time to time" as it was the dominant variant worldwide and was twice as infectious as the virus that spread last year.

He said around 20 per cent of Victoria's population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, which was only enough "to take a little bit of the edge" off the spread of the outbreak.

"Getting our vaccination coverage up as fast as we can in the next six weeks, eight weeks or so — in both countries — will help us become more resilient.

"If we can get up to 20 per cent, 30 per cent of people vaccinated it won't stop the virus spreading but it will slow it down and that's probably the most important thing for both countries to do at the moment as well as ensuring our quarantine is as tight as possible."

rnz.co.nz