Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says authorities are working to figure out why there's been a surge of Covid-19 cases arriving in New Zealand from India, but not so many from other high-risk nations.
The Government yesterday announced a temporary ban on travellers from the Asian country coming into New Zealand from 4pm on April 11. The ban will last until April 28.
"This is not a permanent arrangement, but rather a temporary measure until we are able to better understand and manage the situation we are facing and see if there are ways to reduce the risk that actually travellers themselves are facing," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday.
Otago Univeristy epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker this morning told Breakfast the move was "the right thing to do".
"Obviously, no one wants to see these extreme measures. I mean the pandemic is causing misery and this will add to that — the suspending of travel from some countries — but it is necessary and it's a last resort, of course," he said.
However, he added there was a lot of other measures which could be done before suspending travellers, including New Zealand citizens, from coming home.
"One thing is to actually work with these populations of travellers, because none of them want to be infected and bringing the virus into New Zealand, and so I think it would be doing some basic research into why people are being infected."
Baker said people appear to be doing a lot of mixing and are likely being infected before getting on flights, so he suggested arranging for travellers to spend a week isolating at hotels at big hub airports, as well as being tested for the virus before getting on a flight.
"Use our booking system in a far more sophisticated way," he suggested.
"All of these people are known to New Zealand — we should be working with them."
Baker also said New Zealand should be "combining forces" with Australia since there will soon be a travel bubble between the two nations.
"We could be working with Australia on benchmarking and harmonising our approaches to manage this problem — it is very soluble."
Later on Breakfast, Hipkins said during the temporary ban, authorities would be looking into options of how to reduce the risk on the India side as well as managing risk once passengers arrive in New Zealand.
"The US are experiencing a similar kind of resurgence in cases to what we're seeing in India. They have very, very active rates of infection there, but we're not seeing that translated in people coming from the US to New Zealand, testing positive when they get here. But we are seeing that from India," he said.
"Our various regimes at the border have actually proven to be very effective. Pre-departure testing was something we introduced around Christmas time, over the Christmas break, to recognise the surge around the rest of the world, to recognise the new variants and so on.
"For most countries, that's proven to be very effective. For India is hasn't been effective and so we need to understand why that is."