Ministry result

Covid-19: Ministry of Health assesses border parameters in light of Omicron

New Zealand’s border parameters, including a 72-hour pre-departure testing requirement, are being assessed in light of the emergence of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, the health ministry said.

New Zealand’s first case of the highly contagious variant of Omicron was detected on Thursday, arriving in the country from Germany, via Dubai. Three more cases were reported on Friday.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said public health officials are undertaking regular public health risk assessments to review international evidence and conclusions and make recommendations to adjust New Zealand’s border parameters if necessary.

As of Friday, there were 82 close contacts of New Zealand's first case of the Omicron variant, most of whom are in managed isolation in Christchurch.

John Anthony / Stuff

As of Friday, there were 82 close contacts of New Zealand’s first case of the Omicron variant, most of whom are in managed isolation in Christchurch.

Currently, before boarding a flight to New Zealand, travelers must have a Covid-19 test sample taken and return the result within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time of their first international departure.

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The ministry spokesperson said the requirement for pre-departure testing helped reduce the initial number of people traveling to New Zealand with Covid-19 and was one of our first lines of defense.

Because pre-departure testing did not guarantee that a person did not have Covid-19 or contracted Covid-19 in transit, all international arrivals had to self-isolate at a managed isolation facility. (MIQ) for seven days with testing on days zero or one, day three and day five or six, he says.

Professor Nigel French, Co-Director of One Health Aotearoa, said Omicron posed “a great threat” to New Zealand given the low level of natural immunity to Covid-19 among the population and the small number of reminders administered.

He said a review not only of pre-departure testing requirements but also of all border settings needed to be done.

This included the length of MIQ stays and advancing the recall program and making it more widely available as soon as possible, he said.

A shorter testing requirement would likely catch more people incubating the virus, he said.

“By shortening this interval, you are more likely to pick up people who are incubating it and therefore less likely to have false negatives from people coming to the border after the trip.”

But the downside to that was the logistics of getting a test on time, which was difficult enough, he said.

“Considering the importance of what we’re up against, I think it’s really worth taking this as seriously as possible to try and make sure we’re doing the right thing and it’s being guided by. the best scientific information available. “

Rather than following what overseas jurisdictions are doing, the government and the Department of Health should look at the science most relevant to New Zealand’s situation, which the department has generally been quite good at, did he declare.

“It’s really about looking at the evidence, the information and deciding what is most appropriate for our environment. “

New Zealand currently has a 72 hour testing requirement for overseas arrivals.

John Anthony / Stuff

New Zealand currently has a 72 hour testing requirement for overseas arrivals.

John Mackay, technical director of PCR testing lab Dnature, said other countries are implementing shorter pre-departure testing windows for arrivals.

In early December, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their pre-departure testing requirements for international arrivals to one-day for anyone two years of age or older.

Mackay said Omicron appeared to infect throats much better than even Delta, which may have a testing advantage, as rapid antigen tests may be more sensitive at detecting Omicron.

The problem with a shorter testing window was the current testing capacity, he said.

New Zealand was to implement saliva PCR testing in the community, as were private companies as well as some ports, he said.

This technology could also be implemented on long-haul flights, he said.

Airline Representative Council executive director Justin Tighe-Umbers said he would support a 48-hour pre-departure test requirement.

Ricky Wilson / Stuff

Airline Representative Council executive director Justin Tighe-Umbers said he would support a 48-hour pre-departure test requirement.

Airline Representative Council executive director Justin Tighe-Umbers said he would support a 48-hour pre-departure testing requirement for inbound travelers, which has been found in many other jurisdictions across the country. Wed.

But a 24-hour requirement has become impractical for travelers, as test providers often cannot guarantee to deliver results within those time frames, he said.

This could prevent travelers from boarding their flight because they did not receive a result on time.