Pre-departure Covid test rule to be scrapped ‘soon’ as government plans ‘new normal’
Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said pre-departure testing offers “much less value” than before.
- The government is actively considering ending pre-departure testing requirements before August.
- Chris Hipkins says there will be an inquiry into how the pandemic unfolded in New Zealand.
- MIQ is now used primarily for refugees and people traveling to Antarctica.
Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has said it is likely the government will end the pre-departure testing requirement early.
His signal that pre-departure testing was underway was one of many points he underlined as part of the government’s change in direction as Covid-19 became part of “the new normal”.
The government had already announced that pre-departure testing would no longer be required from August, but Hipkins said it was “in the process of making a decision” to end the requirement early.
Hipkins said pre-departure testing, for people coming to New Zealand, was “less important” and offered “much less value” than before.
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“It is likely that a decision on this will be taken as soon as possible, in terms of removing the requirement,” he said at the meeting of Parliament’s select health committee on Wednesday.
He said pre-departure testing is unlikely to reduce hospitalization rates.
He did not provide a date when the government would announce a change to the pre-departure requirement.
Tourism industry leaders called for the scrapping of pre-departure testing this month.
Other Pacific countries, such as Fiji and the Cook Islands, have already scrapped their pre-departure testing requirements.
There will be a Covid survey
Hipkins also confirmed that the government would launch an investigation into the pandemic and its response. However, he said Cabinet had yet to decide what form the inquiry would take – whether it would be a royal commission, a public inquiry or a government inquiry.
He said an investigation announcement would be made at the end of this year.
Discussions on a retrospective survey showed the evolution of the response to the pandemic.
Hipkins said some bespoke legislation, ordinances and mechanisms that had been developed to respond to Covid-19 — such as the MIQ and the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act — were being phased out.
The Covid-19 Public Health Response Act, which empowers the government to issue specific orders to control the virus and operate the MIQ, has a built-in sunset clause in which it must be repealed by May 13, 2023.
Hipkins said the law was already less relevant than it had been and was unlikely to be renewed.
The few remaining facilities at MIQ were mainly used for people traveling to Antarctica or for refugees from Afghanistan, he said.
He said his specific powers had always made him “relatively uncomfortable” and shouldn’t be part of everyday life.
With the law due to expire next year, Hipkins said he plans to incorporate any legislation needed to continue to deal with Covid-19 into existing legislation. He said dealing with the virus should be part of the normal functions of government.
Officials would continue to monitor new variants of Covid-19, and the government was investigating the law and facilities that would be needed in the event of a new pandemic, or a more concerning variant. But Hipkins warned that there would be no “perfect” law that could sit on hold to respond to future pandemics.