The Government will move to a new risk-based approach for overseas arrivals that will see passengers on higher-risk flights kept together for their MIQ stay, the Herald understands.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins will today unveil the Government's plan to minimise the risk of returnees from countries ravaged by Covid-19, including India.
He will also outline the plan for the extra 1000 to 1300 MIQ rooms a fortnight that are freed up by the transtasman bubble - but they are unlikely to be used in a way that increases overall risk at the border.
Some of them will be used for foreign seasonal workers and students from countries that are free of any community transmission.
The travel ban from India looks unlikely to be extended beyond April 28, despite the number of cases in India tripling since the ban took effect.
"That has not been part of our thinking for citizens," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday about the possibility of extending it.
"We can't deem someone stateless. If a New Zealander is abroad, the only legal place they're able to reside, by default, is New Zealand. So we need to enable them to be able to travel home if they need to.
"We have Bora (Bill of Rights Act) obligations that we need to maintain."
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins will today outline how the Government plans to minimise the risk of overseas returnees from countries where Covid is rampant. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Herald understands that the Government will instead hone in on other measures to minimise risk, including keeping passengers on high-risk flights together for their MIQ stay.
Currently people on the same flight are often taken to different MIQ facilities.
Cohorting arrivals by flight rather than by country-of-departure acknowledges the potential of in-flight transmission, of which there is documented evidence.
Chief among the red flags is the flight from United Arab Emirates, which has been used as a connecting flight for travellers leaving India, but also many other countries.
The April 10 flight that was serviced by the Auckland airport worker who tested positive this week came from the UAE, for example, and carried six passengers who later tested positive: three from India, two from Kenya, and one from Ethiopia who somehow passed the virus to the cleaner.
On Wednesday, Hipkins suggested a risk-based approach to overseas arrivals rather than a one-size-fits-all model, which Otago University public health experts have been calling for for several months.
Hipkins said the high-risk cohorts will be kept in exclusive MIQ facilities with fewer occupied rooms.
"The changes we're making for very-high-risk and high-risk arrivals ... will have an overall effect. By being stricter about the way we do cohorts, it will mean a greater number of rooms won't be filled," he said.
"There's a lot of countries that are high risk, but there is a small group of them that are very high risk - and India falls into that category."
It's unclear if there will be quarantine wings within those facilities, which would mean people who test positive while in MIQ would avoid the inherent risks associated with being transported to a different facility.
Hipkins has also asked for advice on strengthening pre-departure requirements, but it is unclear if these will change given how impractical any improvements are considered.
Travellers currently need to have a negative test within 72 hours of flying, but many infected passengers on the UAE flight are thought to have caught the virus before heading to the airport in their country of departure, on their way to the airport, at the airport, or on the flight.
Preventing these types of transmission would be difficult short of requiring travellers to quarantine in an approved place near the airport before departure for several days.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker has pushed for pre-departure declarations where travellers spell out the measures they'll take, such as no social activities or stay...