OPINION: New Zealand begins a two-week ban on travellers from India from 4 pm today. Audrey Young assesses whether it was justified and how the Govt should use those two weeks.
Among the range of reactions to the suspension of arrivals from India have been some pretty wild assertions.
The first is that it was a racist and populist move by the Government, a claim astonishingly suggested by several Green MPs, among others.
Second, it has been suggested that it is a response to the wave of infections affecting India. It is not.
It is a response to the large number of people arriving in New Zealand already infected with Covid-19 and the apparent failures of pre-departure testing and behaviour to minimise such arrivals.
Imagine for a second that similarly large numbers of people arriving in Auckland from Sydney – or Sydney from Auckland – had Covid-19 when they arrived. The borders would have been snapped shut until the situation had been addressed.
The wonder about the response to the India situation is that it took so long to get any action from the Government.
The Ministry of Health possibly took its lead from the politicians who have shown no sense of urgency and have been batting away journalists' questions for weeks about pre-departure tests from India.
The Government sought advice, which it received on Monday with no recommendations.
The steadily increasing numbers reached such heights that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was jolted into temporary action which was justified.
Since February, 54 per cent of positive cases in managed isolation and quarantine have arrived from India. In the past two weeks, 80 per cent of all positives (60 out of 75) have just arrived from India.
The decision by Ardern and Covid minister Chris Hipkins to step in and override the Ministry of Health's slower timetable has restored some confidence in their ability to act decisively in contrast to sluggishness over the Transtasman bubble and the vaccination rollout.
It was also no coincidence that the decision was made on the same day another border incursion was announced, the week that slow progress in the vaccination rollout became apparent, and the week that the Australian travel bubble was signed off.
They are all linked. The sheer volume of positive arrivals from India presents a higher risk that the virus will escape into the community if the vaccination programme is not tip-top and that it will jeopardise the quarantine-free travel arrangement with Australia that has been so long coming.
It is, of course, a big deal legally and at a human level - you have to feel for the people whose travel plans have been thrown into chaos with no notice.
When Ardern in February last year announced a restriction on arrivals from China, an exception was made for New Zealand citizens and residents. It was a move that risked diplomatic relations but was justified on the basis of protecting New Zealand. The Greens raised no objections back then, by the way.
The move on arrivals from India is across the board.
The answer for the India situation could be pretty simple: keep the requirement for passengers to have a nasal swab within 72 hours of departure but add another layer of protection - several hours before the flight, require all passengers departing for New Zealand to undergo a saliva test and a temperature test at the airport, with product supplied by New Zealand and overseen by a New Zealand official.
The same added requirement could be made of passengers from countries whose arrivals to New Zealand test positive on arrival at an agreed threshold specified by a group of experts.
Those passengers from India who were blocked from entering New Zealand between April 11 and 28 and still want to come should have their MIQ fees waived in recognition of the upheaval they have endured.
A day-of-departure test won't pick up every case. But it would surely reduce the number of positive cases boarding flights for New Zealand.
Ardern talked yesterday about seeking quality assurance processes in India for its Covid-19 testing, which is just not enough. In a country as challenging as India, you would need to have quality assurances about the processes being undertaken to assess the quality assurance.
New Zealand setting up isolation facilities in another country would be ridiculously impractical.
The best way for New Zealand to restore confidence in processes for India arrivals is for New Zealand to assert a little control in a way that does not impinge on India's sovereignty.
Underpinning New Zealand's response to Covid-19 is a need for confidence at various levels.
The public needs to trust what the Government is telling them is true. The Government needs to trust what public officials are telling them. Officials need to be able to trust what officials in other countries are telling them. Other governments need to be able to trust what the New Zealand Government is doing.
Events this week have eroded that trust at many levels.