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Auckland Border To Open For Summer – Expert Reaction

People may leave or enter Auckland from 15 December – if fully-vaccinated or cleared by a pre-departure test.

Jacinda Ardern also confirmed the rest of the country will join Auckland in moving to the traffic-light system at the same time – soon after 29 November subject to Cabinet review. Auckland and regions with lower vaccination rates will be classed as ‘Red’, with the rest in ‘Orange’.

The SMC asked experts to comment.

Professor Nick Wilson, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, comments:

“There are some good features of today’s announcement with the new traffic-light system shift – particularly the use of vaccination certificates. This is also in the context of New Zealand doing a great job overall with increasing vaccination coverage (now 91% for first dose which is a very good level internationally).

“Nevertheless, from my public health perspective I would have liked to see persisting stronger attempts to keep the Covid-19 outbreak contained to Auckland and to stamp out outbreaks in various parts of the North Island. This could give the rest of the country more weeks or months to get vaccinated, to get boosters, to vaccinate 5-11 year olds, to improve access to anti-viral medicines, and to make ventilation upgrades to buildings.

“While it is very good that the Government is planning on some border protection for the South Island from mid-December (vaccination or a negative test result) – this is still too weak. That is, it should include other requirements such as a negative rapid antigen test result at the point of boarding a flight or ferry to the South Island.

“Another persisting deficit is the lack of focus on rational adjustments to the international border settings. As we have argued in a recent blog – there is a strong case for limiting MIQ for those flying into Auckland to just those from very high risk countries. For most arrivals into Auckland, the risk could be appropriately managed by testing and perhaps some period of home quarantine.”

Conflict of interest statement: Nick Wilson has no competing interests. He gets no funding for any of the research he does on Covid-19.

Dr Rawiri McKree Jansen (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Hinerangi), Clinical Director, National Hauora Coalition, comments:

Frontline doctor overwhelmed with Covid cases:

“I’m too busy trying to support hundreds of whānau who are trying to manage with Covid. I’m feeling resigned to the government’s changes – more loosening leads to more spread, with the greatest impact upon whānau with the least resources.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor Tava Olsen, University of Auckland Business School, comments:

“Spot checks at the Auckland border were really the only practical option for the government. It would not be practical to either keep Aucklanders in Auckland over Christmas or to check every car leaving Auckland.

“To check every car would require a booking system, a technological solution, or impossibly long queues to leave Auckland. None of those three look practical, particularly given the cost and time involved in setting up either a booking system or some sort of technology (such as automatic scanning of cars). Presumably, the spread of COVID without any border requirements was modelled and found to be unacceptable.

“In addition, most of the rest of the country are likely to be pleased to learn there will be requirements for Aucklanders to leave Auckland. Hopefully the government will set up appropriate road signage and public messaging so that Aucklanders will be fully aware of the requirements for leaving, and they can turn back as needed rather than risk a spot check and large fine.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor Michael Plank, Te Pūnaha Matatini and University of Canterbury, comments:

“The Auckland boundary was always a stop-gap measure to delay the spread of Covid-19 to other parts of New Zealand while vaccination rates improved. The timing of opening up the boundary is clearly driven by the desire to allow travel over the holiday period. However, the fact that this will happen two weeks after the country is likely to move to the new traffic light system means there is a risk that new cases could be high and rising at that time.

“People leaving Auckland will have to be either fully vaccinated or to test negative in the 72 hours before departure. This will reduce the number of infectious people travelling around the country but, since neither vaccination nor testing is a 100% guarantee, it won’t prevent it altogether. In addition, around one in five cases in the current outbreak has been in under-12s who are not eligible for the vaccine and are exempt from the testing requirement. Altogether, this means it’s inevitable that cases will crop up all around the country over the summer period.

“Where these cases land in highly-vaccinated communities, it’s likely the virus will hit a dead end and fizzle out. But cases that find their way into under-vaccinated communities will be able to spark serious outbreaks. This is the reason that areas with low vaccination rates will initially be put in the red level of the traffic light system. This will feel similar to alert level 2 for people who are vaccinated, but more like level 3 for unvaccinated people who will be unable to access many non-essential services and events. This will mitigate the risk of outbreaks in low-vaccination regions but it remains to be seen exactly how effective this will be in limiting spread. Vaccine passes have been successful in allowing gradual re-opening in Sydney and Melbourne while bringing cases down.”

Conflict of interest statement: Michael Plank is partly funded by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet for research on mathematical modelling of COVID-19.

Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu, Immunologist, Associate Dean (Pacific), Head of University of Otago Wellington Pacific Office, and Senior Lecturer, Pathology & Molecular Medicine, University of Otago Wellington, comments:

“It was indicated today that movement into the COVID-19 Protection Framework/Traffic Light System would be considered by Cabinet and confirmed on 29th November 2021, with the Auckland border set to open ~ 15th December 2021 where full vaccination or negative testing requirements would be needed for travel across the border. It was also indicated that the Auckland region and the rest of the country would move into the new COVID-19 Protection Framework/Traffic Light System at the same time – with vaccination levels helping determine shifts for different areas into the red or orange settings for example.

“That vaccination rates for Aotearoa New Zealand have continued to increase has been encouraging, however it is critical right now that vaccination levels in Aotearoa New Zealand continue to increase across age groups, geographic locations and all ethnic groups to help keep everyone safe from COVID-19.

“Vaccination rates for COVID-19 are currently sitting at 91% for first doses and 82% fully vaccinated. Double dose COVID-19 vaccination targets for Māori and Pacific peoples of at least 90 – 95%, however, will still be needed across all DHBs to help keep our most vulnerable communities safe from COVID-19 – and also includes protecting our children and young people.

“Even though we are moving into an environment where more people are vaccinated, we still need to be vigilant.

“It is devastating to hear another person has passed away as a result of COVID-19 – sympathies and condolences are respectfully extended to all family and whānau at this sad time.

“The COVID-19 virus continues to spread across Aotearoa New Zealand and people need to be ready for what’s coming. With more people interacting and getting out and about coming into close contact with each other, there’s risk that this will promote and accelerate spread – especially for those who are vulnerable, including our children.

“It will be important also to consider: your mode of travel, where you might be travelling to, who you may be coming into contact with – and plan accordingly. Try to travel by car if possible with the family group, aim for direct routes, use preventative measures such as hand-sanitising, make short stops, wear masks when needed, have good ventilation – and plan accordingly. If on public transport, masks are essential, ensure social and physical distancing, aim for areas with good ventilation, use preventative measures such as hand-sanitising etc – and plan as appropriate.

“Getting vaccinated demonstrates our commitment to keeping others safe – including our most vulnerable.”

No conflict of interest declared.

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