- This story is part of an ongoing series in which Sir Ian Taylor provides the Herald with updates on his travel trial.
One of the official requirements for the 151 Off the Bench trial is that I need to have evidence of a negative PCR test within 72 hours prior to boarding my flight back to New Zealand. You may recall that I had a close call with the official PCR test I had to present prior to boarding my flight out of Dunedin at the start of this trial so I was determined to make sure I had that well and truly sorted before leaving LA.
It has been a remarkably simple process. I just googled "Covid Test LAX" (Los Angeles Airport) and less than 10 minutes later it was all sorted. Online I selected from three separate sites available at the International Airport, chose the type of test I wanted – there were a range of options depending on where you were flying to - and then locked in the day I would like to have the test done. I was also given choices for how fast I wanted the result back. 1 hour, 3 hours or 24 hours. This a full PCR test approved by our MOH.
Having run so close to the wire back in New Zealand, where my 72-hour test result didn't turn up until I was at the airport with less than an hour to board, I chose the 3-hour option. To play it safe, I booked for Saturday, the day before I leave, but the system is set up so you can book on the day of your flight, minimising the risk of catching Covid before you fly out. Compare that with our current system in New Zealand where you can have up to three days to get infected before you fly out.
The simplicity and efficiency of this process reminded me of two other examples of countries that have put in place systems designed to make testing simple and accessible.
A UK colleague of mine who recently travelled to Saudi Arabia for a two-day meeting simply ordered his return flight covid test at his hotel on the night before he flew out and it was waiting for him in the morning when he checked out.
The other example is one of our golf operators who had to fly to the UK a few months ago. Prior to flying out of New Zealand he went online, gave the address of the home he would be isolating in, ordered his two-day, five-day and eight-day tests from a list of accredited providers, confirmed he had tested negative here and headed out.
He arrived at Heathrow, showed his New Zealand test result, got in his rental car, and drove to Dorchester where his 3 separate tests kits were waiting for him at the house he was staying in. On day 2 he dropped his test in the Royal Mailbox, and his negative result was back within a day. He tested negative on day 5 and was allowed to leave isolation on the condition that he still provided his day 8 test. On tour he is regularly tested and has been vaccinated since February. He has never caught Covid.
Critics point to the rising number of cases in the UK, and that is concerning, but the simple reality is that the only reason we set up MIQ is because we had no way of knowing if the people arriving here had Covid. Efficient testing, combined with vaccination, changes that entirely – but we have not moved with the times.
As a result of this, there is a talented young kiwi golfer who gained the opportunity of a lifetime when she won a scholarship to play golf in the US with a pathway to a professional career.
She finished college in May but because of Covid, and our MIQ system, her parents could not join her for her graduation. Five months on, she is stuck in the States, her visa is about to expire, she has no way of earning money and – she has never had Covid.
I have only been here for a few days but already I can see a path to get her home.
She flies to LA and checks into a hotel for five days, like I have done. She takes regular antigen tests, a process she is already familiar with because that's what she did in her college golf team. On the day of her flight home, she heads out to LA Airport where she takes a full PCR test before boarding her flight – that same day.
On arrival she would be met by her parents who take her home where together they isolate for a suitable period, test regularly, monitor health - and get to know each other again.
It seems such a simple and straight forward solution. One that could be repeated for countless thousands of kiwis stranded overseas by a system that has simply not kept up with the changing technologies that can keep us safe.
It's time to do this. Let's bring them home.