Covid 19 coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern not ruling out extending India travel ban to other high-risk nations – NZ Herald πŸ’₯πŸ’₯

PM Jacinda Ardern announces starting Sunday NZ will temporally suspend travel from India to combat a surge in infected travellers. Video / NZ Herald

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is not ruling out extending the unprecedented Indian travel suspension to other high-risk countries in order to keep New Zealand Covid-free.

She, and her director-general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, were yesterday at pains to point out that outside New Zealand’s borders, Covid-19 is ravaging countries such as Brazil and the US.

Keeping New Zealand’s Covid-free status was a key reason Ardern announced there will be a two-week suspension of all travel from India to New Zealand.

7.05am: Chris Hipkins

This means the roughly 630 New Zealanders currently in India will not be able to return home between April 11 and April 28.

One New Zealand resident, who has been stuck in India for a year, told the Herald although he was personally upset that his return home has been delayed, Ardern was right to suspend travel.

“The last thing we want is to carry the virus to New Zealand,” Saurab Bhatia, who is currently self-isolating in a city north of New Delhi, said.

“The impact it could have on the economy and to businesses is way too much.”

The travel suspension is an unprecedented move – never before has the Government denied its citizens from one specific country the right to return home.

But speaking to media in Auckland yesterday, Ardern said it was necessary, given the high number of returnees from India testing positive for Covid-19 upon arrival in New Zealand.

Data from the Ministry of Health shows people returning from India make up the largest number of those testing positive for Covid-19 on day 0/1.

For example, yesterday the Ministry of Health reported that 17 of the 19 people who tested positive for Covid-19 in MIQ were travelling from India – where Covid-19 is currently killing thousands each day.

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield during his Covid-19 update at the Ministry of Health in Wellington yesterday. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield during his Covid-19 update at the Ministry of Health in Wellington yesterday. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The most recent statistics show India reporting roughly 93,000 Covid cases a day.

Although Ardern said she understood the difficulties the travel suspension might put on New Zealanders in India, she said she has “a sense of responsibility and obligation” to reduce the Covid risk to New Zealand, and to the travellers returning home.

But she was unable to rule out an extension of the travel suspension.

She did say that it was not the Government’s intention for the suspension to be a “long-term tool”.

“That’s just not something that we are able to do to our citizens.”

A spokesman for India’s High Commission in Wellington said: “We hope this extraordinary measure will remain temporary and restrictions will be lifted after 28 April in view of the strong people-to-people links between the two countries.”

Legal expert Graeme Edgeler said the Bill of Rights does not prohibit the limitation, or delay, of the right of New Zealanders to return home if there is a “sufficiently strong justification”.

“Protecting life is a strong reason for limiting rights,” he said.

At this stage, Ardern said the Government was not looking at applying a similar travel suspension on any other countries.

But, if the number of Covid-positive day 0/1 tests from those returning from other high-risk countries were to increase substantially, “we would equally look to do the same,” Ardern said.

During this two-week travel suspension, the Government will be developing a new system to manage the risk of people returning from high-risk countries, such as India.

This will include looking at systems in place in New Zealand, as well as what can be done in India to prevent infection.

“We haven’t identified anything obvious … we have to do better and that’s what we’re using this time to try and find a way in which we can,” Ardern said.

And the Government will have no shortage of options in this area.

Bloomfield yesterday suggested separating returnees from high-risk areas from those isolating with those from low-risk countries.

That would mean putting all people returning from places such as India, Brazil and the US in one MIQ facility, separate from everyone else.

In terms of the specific issues with India, the problem appears to be people are being infected after receiving their pre-departure tests.

That is, people are getting Covid-19 on their way to either Mumbai or Delhi – the two airports that fly to New Zealand.

Both those cities, Bloomfield pointed out, have been forced to implement curfews as the virus ravages those highly populated cities.

“These rising rates of infection are therefore the most likely explanation for the substantial increase in the number of travellers here, testing positive on arrival.”

As well as this, Ardern that genomic testing concluded that people contracted Covid, immediately before they travelled rather than mid-flight.

Meanwhile, there was one border-related Covid-19 case in New Zealand yesterday – a security guard who was working at the Grand Millennium MIQ facility.

Covid 19 coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern not ruling out extending India travel ban to other high-risk nations – NZ Herald

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