National announced tough new border policies last week. https://www.national.org.nz/securing-our-border. This is what is needed to stop further incursions of Covid and prevent the huge consequential disruption and economic damage.
New Zealand has a huge natural advantage in this pandemic as the most geographically isolated country in the world. The problem is we keep squandering this with sloppy border management.
We were slow to close our borders in February. It was a mistake to allow tourists to continue to enter New Zealand in March on the basis they would self-isolate. I had numerous Nelson reports of these requirements being blatantly ignored. I also had reports from dozens of Nelsonians returning to New Zealand earlier this year appalled at the lax controls on re- entry compared to other countries.
These failings contributed to our first wave of Covid requiring the six week lockdown but were forgivable given this novel virus and unprecedented challenge. I was proud as to how Nelson and New Zealand responded. We limited the death toll from Covid to 22 and by May had us free of the virus.
It was plain by April that extensive testing was pivotal to containing this disease. The World Health Organisation refrain was Test, Test, and Test. Ministers assured New Zealand in June everybody crossing the border would be tested on day 3 and day 12 of their isolation. It is scandalous that 70% were not, triggering the resignation of Health Minister David Clark.
The new Health Minister Chris Hipkins assured us all border and isolation staff would be regularly tested. We found out last week that 63% were never tested. Many requested it but were refused. Experts say this is the most likely cause of NZ’s second wave of Covid. The consequence has cost billions with our largest city having to be closed down. Many businesses have failed and thousands of jobs lost. The Government got complacent. Testing dropped to just six one day nationwide prior to the second wave of infection.
National proposes six changes to fix our border controls. We will Covid test every traveler before entering New Zealand. The Government says this breaches returning New Zealanders human rights. Tough times require tough measures. It is more reasonable to infringe these travelers’ rights by testing them, than the rights and jobs of millions affected by re-incursions and lockdowns. Nor is it in these people or other passenger’s interests to be flying while they have Covid.
National will create a single border control agency to address the muddled approach from multiple Ministers and agencies. We will regularly test all border and isolation facility staff. We will also make contact tracing technology compulsory for anyone who treats or tests Covid patients. We will also widen the availability of Covid testing and establish a maximum waiting time of 60 minutes. We will also invest in Bluetooth technology of the sort developed by Nelson entrepreneur Sam Morgan.
National’s policy is about multiple lines of defence. Yo – yoing in and out of lockdown is not sustainable. Tough times call for tough border measures.