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Testing flaws see NZ double down on quarantine

written by Hannah Dowling | October 22, 2020
ZK-NHB Air New Zealand Airbus A320neo
ZK-NHB Air New Zealand Airbus A320neo (Craig Murray)

Hopes that pre-flight virus tests could replace quarantine were dealt a fresh blow after it emerged 18 overseas arrivals into New Zealand tested positive for COVID despite a negative result prior to departure.

The country’s Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, confirmed New Zealand was therefore not considering embracing pre-departure testing in lieu of quarantine requirements.

He noted that requiring pre-departure COVID testing “may add some value”, in that infectious individuals will be unable to fly, however, due to flaws in the nature of COVID testing, the country is not considering abandoning its current model of quarantine upon arrival.

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“Now often [a pre-departure test] has to happen a few days before departure, especially if it’s a PCR test, to get a result before they embark. And now what we’ve got is clearly a number of positive results here at day three that were negative on pre-departure testing,” Dr Bloomfield added.

“The regime we have with our 14 days in managed isolation plus our day three and day 12 testing continues to be the mainstay of how we will keep the virus out of New Zealand. 

“At this point in time, the system is working here and whilst there may be the expectation of pre-departure testing, it won’t change anything we will do at this end, which will be following absolutely rigid infection prevention controls and the testing.”

The arrivals were fishermen from Russia and Ukraine who tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, despite each returning a negative result up to three days prior to boarding.

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It comes following numerous calls from the global aviation industry to embrace systems that remove the need for 14-day quarantine periods, which is a significant barrier to current international travel demand.

The International Air Transport Association, which represents nearly 300 airlines around the world, has continuously advocated for pre-flight rapid COVID-19 antigen testing to replace border closures and quarantine requirements, in order to reinvigorate the global aviation industry.

Meanwhile, Ryanair went so far as to threaten two base closures in Ireland should the Irish government not conform to the current European ‘traffic light’ system of pre-flight testing in lieu of quarantine for travellers from ‘green’ or COVID-safe countries.

Dr Bloomfield also noted that New Zealand authorities have little means to verify the validity of tests conducted overseas, including how the test was conducted or the sample handled.

United Airlines on Wednesday joined Cathay Pacific in a pilot program for a new digital health pass phone app, which can verify and store COVID test result – and eventually vaccination – information to be easily scanned and validated by airline staff and overseas healthcare workers.

The app, named CommonPass, is a non-profit initiative backed by the World Economic Forum and Swiss-based foundation The Commons Project, and hopes to assist governments ease travel restrictions and quarantine requirements if successful.

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4 Comments

  • Patrickk

    says:

    The whole thing about predeparture tests whether PCR or antigen is the very high levels of false negatives, which is well published. If people are symptomatic they will mostly show up in testing but then they shouldn’t be flying anyway but if asymptomatic they won’t. In Australia people are showing up on day 10 or even later in quarantine after initial PCR tests being negative. In this case IATA have it completely wrong.

  • Dermott Renner

    says:

    It was more about where the fishermen came from

  • Martin Noakes

    says:

    Is that perhaps due to a mismatch in the PCR ct used in the tests at the departure and arrival ends. If NZ is using ct above 30-35 they could probably pick up Covid remnants on a pickled cabbage

  • Patrickk

    says:

    Dermott I’m not sure if it would’ve made much difference if it was the US or UK poorly paid jobs don’t worry about the niceties of testing and quarantine before the job.

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