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Growing Arrivals Require Broader Approach To Pandemic Response

Latest data from Statistics New Zealand verifies that approximately 21,000 people in total arrived between April and June [1]. With such a large number of arrivals during the pandemic lock-downs, there are increasing concerns regarding the costs and management of isolation facilities.

Moreover, this number is only growing as Kiwis overseas look to return as a result of both the global pandemic and a global economic downturn. These 21,000 arrivals are only a small portion of the total number that intend to migrate back here within the next 6 months.

We can gain insight how this number is increasing from the most recent Customs Service statistics for NZ, showing so far in July there have already been over 4,370 new arrivals into New Zealand [2].

Evaluation of the Stats NZ data portal [3] for all arrivals into New Zealand in the month of July provides additional detail into another important statistic: the super majority of these arrivals are Kiwi returnees. Those arriving on New Zealand passports (2,897 for 1-Jul to 12-Jul) verses those using other nationality passports (1,473 for 1-Jul to 12-Jul) is nearly double in number.

Rightly the attention has been on their safe return and how we as a nation can manage such a mass migration and quarantine amidst economic instability. However, it appears one of the issues that threatens New Zealand’s health and economic stability is somewhat ignored.

There appears to be substantive weakness in pandemic protocols used at many of the origin countries, where these thousands of Kiwi board planes. Forced to sit among other passengers and travel often without any pandemic safety measures, these returnees end up traveling between stop overs in airports and using public transport that have no pandemic protocols.

Unfortunately, countries with such limited pandemic response put passengers at risk of infection, and it should not be a surprise that some returnees continue to test positive for COVID-19 once arriving in New Zealand.

Certainly, there are some countries that apply very strict pandemic protocols. Such nations require all passengers to wear masks, employ temperatures checks for all who enter the airport, and who urge all passengers to declare any COVID-19 symptoms.

Unfortunately, several of the top nations where our arrivals are returning from do not perform such vital health checks during the ongoing outbreak.

It is therefore appropriate that any expansion of our travel bubbles, any opening of our borders requires a focus on the other countries and their level of pandemic protocols.

New Zealand’s record for keeping COVID-19 at bay is best served if our government also places effort around communicating and enabling pandemic protocols for returnees at the origin country.

More direct accountability needs to be held with regard to nations that choose not to use pandemic protocols, and identify the nations that have current substantive outbreaks. These two factors should influence the methods and protocols by which we allow returnees.

Otherwise, we may very well face an ongoing threat of community transmission and the requirement of continuous management of isolation facilities for the next 6 months or greater.

New Zealand leadership need to take a more proactive approach including establishing and communicating guidelines for all returnees to follow, even if the hosting country does not apply pandemic protocols.

Moreover, the government should restrict arrivals from nations that are having significant outbreaks until reasonable measures are in place to reduce transmission on board flights.

Otherwise, the substantial expansion of COVID-19 in regions of the countries like the United States and Australia, will have a constant impact on our own ability to manage and respond to the pandemic.

The potential increasing threat to New Zealand has not been its ability to respond and counter the pandemic internally. Kiwis have demonstrated during the lockdown that they are resilient and a supportive people. Instead, the growing threat to our health system and economy are the weak methodology and ineffectual pandemic protocols used by other nations.

Until specific countries take on a more effective approach for air travel from within their own borders, New Zealand leadership, regardless of whether they are government or opposition, had best take a cautious approach.

Otherwise, New Zealand will further open its borders and the results will mirror the systemic economic and health failures we see in so many other nations.

[1] - 13/07/2020 2:14 p.m. Kim Dunstan, Senior Insights Analyst, Statistics NZ. “21,000 figure is all arrivals into NZ over those 3 months, not necessarily returning NZ-residents or migrant arrivals.”

[2] - Customs Service statistics

[3] – Statistics NZ COVID-19 data portal

Mark Rais is the creator of the think tank Trend Analysis Network, writer for the technology and science industry and volunteer senior editor for an on-line magazine. He has published several books and written numerous articles on the topics of macro-economics, technology and society.

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