New Zealand may fully open borders three months ahead of schedule but industry leaders say pre-departure requirements dampen the excitement.
When first presented, Step 4 of New Zealand's border reopening plan (which allowed non-citizens from visa-wavier countries to enter), was pencilled for July and brought forward to May 1.'
The Prime Minister is expected to announce today that Step 5 will take place in July, instead of October. Step 5 is the final stage of the plan and fully opens to border to all visa categories, including tourists, workers, families and students.
The news is a positive sign according to RealNZ chief Stephen England-Hall, although he said there were still obstacles to overcome.
"I think it sends the right signal to international markets that New Zealand is continuing to open up," he told Mike Hosking this morning.
However, after speaking to several people who arrived from Australia in the last week, Stephen-Hall said the requirements presented a significant challenge.
"People are taking 7-9 hours to get through the princess of finding a chemist, getting tested, filling your forms etc... then airport queues," he said. All to travel from Australia, which should be the "simplest place" to arrive in New Zealand from.
Michael, an Kiwi businessman who flew from Sydney to Auckland last Friday after a four-day work trip said the process was "an absolute nightmare."
"Getting into Australia was easy, we sailed right through. But getting back into New Zealand was so complicated," he said.
"We had to dial into a nurse in the Philippines live from a computer who then had to run through a whole lot of questions. We then had to do the test in front of her and while we could leave during the 15 minute wait for results, every component of the test could not leave sight of the computer camera.
"After showing her the test, it was sent away and we received a certificate, which we showed the Air New Zealand staff," he explained.
The additional measures seemed pointless, said Michael, as he and a colleague who also travelled to Sydney, tested positive for Covid-19 two days after arriving home anyway.
However, it did mean a coworker from Japan flew to Australia for the meetings but did not continue to New Zealand after deeming the test requirements too difficult.
Why keep the pre-departure test requirement?
Experts appear to be split in their stances.
Some modellers argue that, while pre-departure testing was crucial when New Zealand had low vaccination rates and fewer cases, these factors have changed.
The country now has higher immunity and prevalence of cases that are similar to other countries from which people will be travelling.
On the other hand, some experts claim pre-departure tests are a relatively cheap and simple way to minimise the risk of new variants entering New Zealand, in lieu of MIQ.
Considering how long flights to New Zealand tend to be, whether you arrive from New York or London, a pre-departure test could also minimise the risk of positive cases being on a plane and spreading it to fellow passengers.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said they are considering the vaccination and pre-departure testing requirements for inbound travellers but needed to balance any benefits with health risks.
New Zealand trials easier pre-departure test
If pre-departure tests are not scrapped soon, they could at least become easier if Auckland Airport's new 3-month Covid-test trial is successful.
Auckland airport will trial LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) tests with 30 Air NZ staff.
More convenient than PCR but more accurate than a RAT, associate Minister for Covid-19 Response Dr Ayesha Verrall said if LAMPS become an accepted test, people could acquire one before leaving New Zealand and then use it for the pre-departure test to return.
"You wouldn't need to run around a foreign city trying to find where you could buy a PCR test," she said.