New Zealand has imposed a blanket testing regime for all flights arriving internationally, with passengers now required to return a negative Covid test result before departure.
The Covid-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, said while New Zealand already had tight border controls in place, the rising number of cases around the globe meant further protections were called for.
Australia, Antarctica and most Pacific Islands will be exempt from the new requirement.
“As we signalled last week, given the high rates of infection in many countries, most global air routes are of critical concern for the foreseeable future,” Hipkins said.
“New Zealand is currently in a good position with no community cases, but we continue to take action with very specific steps to further strengthen our borders in response to what we’re seeing overseas.”
New Zealand closed its borders in March 2020 and, following a stringent seven-week lockdown, community transmission of the virus was eliminated by the middle of the year, and life largely returned to normal.
The last community case was recorded in Auckland on 18 November.
The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has given no indication of when the borders will open, though 2021 has ushered in a slight relaxation of the rules, with Cook Islanders able to enter from 21 January, and Australians at some point in the first quarter.
Earlier this month the government introduced pre-departure testing for flights arriving from the UK and US.
“So far, after four days of flights arriving with travellers from the US and UK, we are seeing extremely high levels of compliance,” Hipkins said today.
All passengers arriving in New Zealand are required to spend 14 days in a managed isolation facility, regardless of whether they return a negative test pre-departure.
They must also pass two Covid tests before they can be released.
New Zealanders trying to return home from abroad have expressed anguish at the difficulty of the journey, and the frustration of trying to book a room in a managed isolation facility, which are largely full until mid-March.
The opposition National party has been calling for blanket pre-departure testing since the middle of last year, and welcomed the move today.
Some New Zealand experts have expressed scepticism at the efficacy and fairness of pre-departure testing, saying obtaining a test can be expensive in the US and UK, and offered no protections against someone developing symptoms and signs of the virus during the flight to New Zealand.