Government under more political pressure to ease border restrictions as Covid cases rise

Political pressure is mounting on the government to move faster on easing border restrictions as the domestic outbreak escalates.The number of new community cases is growing by the day; the Ministry of Health recording nearly 15,000 yesterday, compared to 41 new cases at the border.

Border restrictions do not fully drop until October under the government's five-stage reopening plan announced at the start of the month.

Both the National Party and ACT want MIQ gone now and argue overseas arrivals should live under the same restrictions as those already onshore.

National's leader Christopher Luxon said the ballooning Omicron outbreak means people are far more likely to catch Covid-19 in the community than from returnees.

"When we've got 15,000 daily cases in the community, the 41 cases at the border are, frankly, not a threat to us," he said.

The border has reopened to fully-vaccinated New Zealanders returning from Australia today who can now skip MIQ and self-isolate for seven days.

This is the first of five stages of the phased reopening plan but Luxon said the relaxing of border restrictions is not going nearly as fast as it should be.

"I think fundamentally the government hasn't got to an Omicron mindset. Essentially, they're still running New Zealand with the mindset we had two years ago.

"That served us incredibly well, back in 2020 and early 2021, but the reality is the threat and risk has changed. A case today is not the same as a case two years ago."

ACT's leader David Seymour said ending MIQ now would make next to no difference to the Omicron outbreak as daily case numbers continue to escalate.

"Political pressure to move on is mounting because Omicron has changed the mathematics. There's simply no justification on a cost-benefit basis for continuing MIQ or any of the border restrictions we currently have.

"If we allowed people from anywhere in the world with a negative test to come to New Zealand they would make a negligible contribution to New Zealand's daily case numbers compared to what we're currently experiencing."

The government has requested urgent advice on the risk posed to New Zealanders from overseas arrivals, given the recent steep rise in Omicron cases.

While it is not likely this advice will be ready before Cabinet meets this afternoon the government says it expects to make an announcement "very soon".

Seymour said he suspected the advice, which will come from the Strategic Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group - led by Sir David Skegg - would be "very conservative".

"The fact that the prime minster's asking for rapid advice which will take another week to tell us the obvious is verging on a parody of the government's earlier Covid-19 response," he said.

Anneke Smith, Political Reporter - Radio New Zealand, RNZ
February 28, 2022