People returning to New Zealand from high-risk Covid-19 countries like Britain and the United States will from today be required to undergo a more rigorous testing regime.
Arrivals will have the first of three Covid-19 tests on the day they arrive or the next day, and then have follow-up tests on day three and day 12. Previously, arrivals had to undergo tests only on day three and day 12 in managed isolation.
The countries considered to be most at risk by the Ministry of Health are Britain and the US. The next tier down are countries such as India, Pakistan and Mexico.
Additional plans for pre-departure tests for those leaving Britain for New Zealand are also being worked on.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said those pre-departure tests in Britain would be implemented in mid-January.
"The extra PCR test will be applied on day zero [the day of arrival], as returnees who've been in the United Kingdom or the United States during the preceding 14 days go through New Zealand airport controls, or on day one, after they arrive at a managed isolation and quarantine facility," Hipkins said.
The new border-protection moves have been prompted by the emergence of new and more contagious virus variants around the world, and ongoing high rates of the disease in some countries.
These higher-risk returnees will also be required to stay in quarantine in their allocated room at a managed isolation facility until their initial day-zero test has returned a result.
"We're not considering this lightly," Hipkins said of the new test regime.
"We're going beyond what we've done in the past, to stay ahead of what appears to be a worsening situation globally and, in doing so, we would reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading during transit and entering our managed isolation facilities."
Hipkins said an "eventual safe travel zone" with Australia and realm countries would ultimately mean fewer people from lower-risk countries staying in New Zealand's managed isolation facilities.
In Australia yesterday, there were 10 new cases in New South Wales and six in Victoria.
It was the first time in 61 days Victoria had registered a community case. In response to the outbreak, the state will reduce the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings at home from 30 to 15.
Victoria will also be shutting its border to NSW from January 1, 2021.
Yesterday, the UK also extended its toughest Covid-19 restrictions to more than three-quarters of England's population, as a fast-spreading new variant of the virus reached most of the country.
Britain's top infection-warning level, Tier 4, has been expanded beyond London to large swaths of central, northern and southwest England, including Manchester and Birmingham.
The move will severely curtail New Year's Eve celebrations in parts of England that are home to 44 million people. Under Tier 4, most people are advised to stay home, barred from mixing with the members of other households either indoors or out.