Camera test

Pre-departure testing requirement dampens hints of early border opening

Kiwis who have traveled to Australia describe the process as “an absolute nightmare”. Photo / 123rf

New Zealand could fully open its borders three months ahead of schedule, but industry leaders say pre-departure requirements dampen the excitement.

When first presented, Stage 4 of New Zealand’s border reopening plan (which allowed non-nationals from visa-free countries to enter) was drafted for July and brought forward to May 1.

The Prime Minister is expected to announce today that Stage 5 will take place in July, instead of October. Stage 5 is the final stage of the plan and fully opens the border to all visa categories, including tourists, workers, families and students.

The news is a positive sign according to RealNZ chief Stephen England-Hall, although he said there were still hurdles to overcome.

“I think it sends the right signal to international markets that New Zealand is continuing to open up,” he told Mike Hosking this morning.

However, after speaking to several people who arrived from Australia last week, Stephen-Hall said the requirements presented a significant challenge.

“People take 7-9 hours to go through the princess to find a chemist, get tested, fill out your forms, etc…and then queues at the airport,” he said. Everything to travel from Australia, which should be the “easiest place” to arrive in New Zealand.

Michael, a Kiwi businessman who flew from Sydney to Auckland last Friday after a four-day work trip, said the process was “an absolute nightmare”.

“Entering Australia was easy, we sailed all the way. But coming back to New Zealand was so complicated,” he said.

“We had to call a nurse in the Philippines live from a computer who then had to answer a whole bunch of questions. We then had to do the test in front of her and while we could leave for the 15 minutes of waiting for the results, each component of the test could not leave the view of the computer camera.

“After showing him the test, he was fired and we received a certificate, which we showed to Air New Zealand staff,” he explained.

The extra measures seemed unnecessary, Michael said, because he and a colleague who also traveled to Sydney tested positive for Covid-19 anyway two days after arriving home.

However, this meant a colleague from Japan flew to Australia for meetings but did not continue to New Zealand after deeming the test requirements too difficult.

Why retain the pre-departure test requirement?

The experts seem to be divided in their positions.

Some modellers say that while pre-departure testing was crucial when New Zealand had low vaccination rates and fewer cases, those factors have changed.

The country now has higher immunity and prevalence of cases similar to other countries people will be traveling from.

On the other hand, some experts say pre-departure testing is a simple and relatively cheap way to minimize the risk of new variants entering New Zealand, instead of the MIQ.

Given the length of flights to New Zealand, whether you are arriving from New York or London, testing before departure could also minimize the risk of positive cases being on a plane and spreading it to other passengers.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said they were considering pre-departure vaccination and testing requirements for inbound travellers, but had to balance the benefits with the health risks.

New Zealand trials easier pre-departure test

If pre-departure testing isn’t scrapped soon, it could at least get easier if Auckland Airport’s new 3-month Covid test trial is successful.

Auckland Airport will trial LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) testing with 30 Air NZ employees.

More convenient than PCR but more accurate than a RAT, Associate Minister for Covid-19 Response Dr Ayesha Verrall said if LAMPS became an accepted test people could acquire one before leaving New Zealand, then use it for the pre-departure test to come back.

“You wouldn’t have to run around a foreign city trying to find where to buy a PCR test,” she said.