Shorter stays in MIQ for people arriving from overseas was a sensible step but one expert wonders whether there is a case for allowing those remaining in Auckland to isolate at home.
Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins today announced MIQ stays would be reduced from 14 days to seven for people arriving from overseas, followed by another three days of home isolation with testing throughout.
The change was aimed at freeing up more MIQ space to allow more Kiwis overseas to return home.
Otago University public health Professor Nick Wilson said MIQ was necessary for those returning to other parts of the country but believed the restrictions could be eased even further for people whose final destination was Auckland, given that elimination was no longer the goal for the city.
"It was somewhat surprising that the Government made no announcement that the MIQ system was to be made much simpler for people returning just to Auckland," he said.
"Perhaps vaccinated people returning from overseas to just Auckland should be able to bypass MIQ facilities completely and go straight to home quarantine for a few days (ideally with testing requirements).
"As perhaps a third of people wishing to return to New Zealand might be wanting to just return to Auckland, this would help a lot in reducing pressure on the MIQ system."
On the flip side, Wilson said internal borders around Auckland and the Waikato needed to be tightened by requiring anyone travelling through to be fully vaccinated and have a rapid antigen test at the border.
It was possible that the rest of the country could still achieve elimination during the push to increase vaccination rates, he said.
Te Pūnaha Matatini and University of Canterbury Professor Michael Plank said he believed shortening MIQ stays was a "sensible first step" to relaxing border controls so that more Kiwis could come home.
"The majority of MIQ cases are picked up in the first seven days after arriving, with only a handful detected in the second week. The addition of a rapid antigen test on leaving MIQ and a period of home isolation and follow-up test are additional safeguards that will limit the potential for community transmission.
"Preliminary modelling results suggest that this type of strategy can still keep the risk at the border very low."
To keep Kiwis safe, the week in MIQ needed to be retained until the Government's 90 per cent vaccination targets had been met, he said.
He agreed that the Auckland boundary was still important in the short term to allow more people to be vaccinated and suggested rapid tests and vaccination requirements for people travelling between the North and South Islands.
Principal investigator for Te Pūnaha Matatini and Auckland University physics lecturer Dr Dion O'Neale also believed more needed to be done to prevent Covid from spreading outside Auckland.
He suggested one-off travellers should have a series of tests once they departed Auckland in a similar manner to what is required of international arrivals, and could even be required to isolate once at their destination until returning a negative result.