New Zealand launches new isolation plan for business travelers, aiming to ease Covid-19 restrictions

New Zealand launches new isolation plan for business travelers, aiming to ease Covid-19 restrictions

A ‘pilot’ scheme to allow certain people arriving in New Zealand to isolate at home instead of at state-run quarantine facilities has been introduced by authorities, who have been criticized for their tough pandemic measures.

The home isolation strategy will be tested on 150 people, and all those who are interested can apply from Thursday until October 9, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced at a media briefing following a cabinet meeting on Monday.

The government has decided to allow selected travelers – who must all be New Zealand residents – to avoid quarantine facilities as part of a plan to gradually reopen borders, Ardern said. According to existing measures, before boarding a flight to return home, New Zealanders are legally required to get a voucher for a confirmed place at one of the country’s managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities. Travelers have been complaining that they are often fully booked due to limited capacity.

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However, so far only business travelers who need to cross the border for work purposes will be allowed to apply for home isolation, arriving in the country between October 30 and December 8. They will also be subjected to testing and monitoring, and must be fully vaccinated. “While this is a pilot, it gives you a sense of where we intend to go on our borders,” the prime minister said.

A scheme to reopen quarantine-free travel for Recognized Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers from some Pacific islands is also in the works, Ardern added, saying it might be launched from early October starting with Vanuatu travelers.

At the moment, New Zealand allows its citizens and residents to enter the country if they head to a MIQ facility upon arrival and stay there for at least two weeks. Since an outbreak of the Delta variant hit New Zealand in August, tougher anti-Covid measures have been introduced in the island country, which had previously been largely virus-free.

The Auckland region is currently at alert level 3, meaning certain public venues are closed, people are asked to stay at home and work remotely if possible, schools and daycares are only open to children of essential workers, and events like weddings and funerals are restricted to 10 people. The rest of the country is at alert level 2, with face coverings and social distancing obligatory, and both indoor and outdoor venues being limited to 100 people. 

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The nation is “making progress” in dealing with the deadly virus, New Zealand’s director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, announced on Monday, saying, “Many of our clusters are now considered to be contained, or clusters are dormant.” Authorities have previously said at least 90% of New Zealand’s eligible population needs to be vaccinated to ease lockdown restrictions. So far, some 1.8 million people have received two vaccine doses, which is nearly 37% of the population. The government is now “actively considering” vaccine certificates, according to Ardern, who said a decision on the measure would be made before the Christmas holidays.

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