(Jan. 22, 2021) On January 3, 2021, New Zealand’s COVID-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, announced that “[t]ravellers from the United Kingdom or the United States bound for New Zealand will be required to get a negative test result for COVID-19 before departing, and work is underway to extend the requirement to other long haul flights to New Zealand.” The new requirement for a negative test within 72 hours before departure, evidenced by a “written form, certified by a laboratory or another form of approved evidence,” came into force for flights arriving from the U.K. or U.S. after 11:59 p.m. NZDT on January 15, 2021. Arriving in New Zealand without evidence of a negative approved test is an infringement offense, for which a person is liable to an infringement fee of NZ$300 (about US$215) or a fine of up to NZ$1,000 (about US$715).
This change was previously foreshadowed in a statement by the minister on December 28, 2020, in which he announced that “[a]n additional test for COVID-19 will be required for returnees from higher risk countries such as the United Kingdom on their arrival in New Zealand from midnight on 31 December.” The additional test, which also applies to travelers arriving from the U.S., is applied on “day zero,” being the first day that they arrive at a managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility, with those tested required to remain in their rooms until the test result is available (usually about 24–48 hours). Previously, all those in MIQ were tested only on day 3 and day 12 of the mandated 14-day isolation period. Those who test positive for COVID-19 are transferred to a quarantine facility.
On January 12, 2021, the minister announced that the day zero testing requirement would be expanded to all passengers from any destination other than Australia and Antarctica, starting from January 18, 2021. He also provided additional details about the pre-departure test requirements:
- Children under two will be exempt from pre-departure testing
- Passengers transiting through the UK and US for not more than 96 hours before departing for New Zealand will be exempt for now from pre-departure testing
- RT-PCR tests, LAMP and viral antigen tests will all be accepted for pre-departure testing
- All tests must be processed at a laboratory
- A hard copy or electronic copy of the test result from an accredited laboratory will be acceptable documentation of a negative test
- Upon arrival in New Zealand travellers will be required to produce proof of your negative test result to a Customs officer during your passport processing. Either a hard copy or an electronic copy will be accepted
In addition, some medical exemptions will be allowed, and “people who can present a medical certificate as a past recovered case of COVID-19 will also be exempt.” Furthermore, “in rare cases, the requirement of a test 72 hours in advance may be extended to 96 hours if a person’s flight has been delayed or cancelled, or test results haven’t been received in time. In this situation, the flight must be rescheduled or rebooked to depart within 24 hours.”
The MIQ testing requirements and new pre-departure test requirements are contained in the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Air Border) Order (No 2) 2020, which was amended on January 12, 2021, by the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Air Border) Order (No 2) Amendment Order 2021. The requirements related to staying in an MIQ facility after a person’s arrival in New Zealand are contained in the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Isolation and Quarantine) Order 2020. Both instruments are made under the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020, which was enacted on May 13, 2020.
Background on Border Measures
The New Zealand border was closed to all travelers who are not New Zealand citizens or resident visa holders effective from March 19, 2019. Since then, some restrictions have been lifted so that various other visa holders with a “critical purpose” to travel to New Zealand are able apply for border exceptions, including partners of New Zealand citizens and residents, and people holding certain work visas. Most recently, an exception was announced for returning international students to enable their attendance New Zealand universities, starting from April 2021.
Under the Air Border Order, all travelers are “legally required to obtain a Managed Isolation Allocation system voucher” confirming their place in a managed isolation facility before boarding a flight to New Zealand. There are a small number of exemptions to the managed isolation requirement:
Applications for exemptions are considered on a case-by-case basis and the threshold for approval is very high. An exemption will only be approved where we can be confident that the health risk of transmission is very low.
Most exemptions are granted for people to join unaccompanied minors, people in transit, or people whose medical needs require hospital-level care.
If you are given an exemption to leave managed isolation, you will still need to complete a minimum 14 days of isolation from the time you arrived in New Zealand. Infection Prevention and Control measures and a self-isolation plan also need to be in place.
Until August 11, 2020, the government did not charge for stays at MIQ facilities. From that date, returning New Zealand citizens and residents who will not remain in the country for 90 days or longer, or those who left the country after the effective date, are charged at a rate of NZ$3,100 (about US$2,245) for the first person in a room (whether child or adult), NZ$950 (about US$688) for each additional adult in the same room, and NZ$475 (about US$344) for each additional child (3–17 years old, inclusive). A maximum of four people can stay in the same room. New charges for critical workers (other than critical health workers) in managed isolation came into effect on January 1, 2021, being NZ$5,520 (about US$4,000) for the first or only person in a room, NZ$2,990 (about US$2,166) for a second adult in a room, and NZ$1,610 (about US$1,166) for a child over three years of age. Under the new rules, “employers or supporting agencies (where there is one) will be required to pay the fee (not the employee).” Critical health workers “will continue to pay the same amount as returning New Zealanders.”
As of January 18, 2021, there were 85 active COVID-19 cases in New Zealand, all of which were detected at the border, with those affected being in managed facilities. There have been a total of 1,906 confirmed cases of the virus, with 25 deaths. There have been no cases of the virus detected in the community since November 2020.