A leading Kiwi epidemiologist says rapid antigen testing (RAT) before people board planes from China would help protect passengers from coronavirus infections on flights.
But he doubts there is any point in reintroducing tests for Covid-19 at our borders.
The scale of the Covid-19 outbreak in China has prompted some countries to impose new travel rules, although there are no plans to reintroduce Covid-19 testing at the New Zealand border as residents of China are free to travel to abroad and return without quarantine next month. .
From January 8, arrivals will only have to show a negative RAT obtained sometime in the previous 48 hours to be allowed into China, where the virus was first detected in late 2019. The sudden change is expected to in politics results in an increase in Chinese travel. abroad, raising fears of a new wave of infection.
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Testing passengers on a flight from China to Italy this week found that half of them were infected.
New Zealand, which once had some of the strictest border restrictions in the world, currently has no Covid-19 testing requirements, either before departure or on arrival. Japan, Italy, Malaysia, Taiwan and India have tightened the screws this week in response to China’s growing outbreak.
University of Otago professor and epidemiologist Michael Baker said there was value in pre-match testing.
“If you have a high proportion of infected Chinese travelers leaving China, that obviously means there will be a lot of in-flight transmission – which I think is a real health risk for other travelers,” he told RNZ. .
“So I think there could be a case for that – it would have a clear public health purpose.”
But testing arrivals wouldn’t be particularly helpful, Baker said, because the main risk of infection here is from other New Zealanders.
“Right now we’re probably having around 10,000 infections in New Zealand every day. The number of people that can come in from China that can get infected, well, I don’t think there are any at the moment.
“But when travel starts with China, it may be relatively small numbers, so it’s not likely to make a big contribution.”
More than 400,000 Chinese visitors arrived in the country in 2019 and spent $1.7 billion, according to Tourism New Zealand data.
New Zealand’s official Covid-19 figures show a moving average of around 4,500 a day, but this is considered to be at best only half of all infections, perhaps less. There are currently 482 people in hospital with the virus, up from nearly 600 before Christmas.
The Ministry of Health said on Wednesday that “international arrivals, including from China, do not significantly alter the risk of Covid-19 in New Zealand”.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his country also had no plans to change its travel laws but “will continue to monitor the situation”.
“But we continue to encourage new arrivals to get tested if they show symptoms of Covid-19,” a spokesperson said.
“At this time, there has been no change in traveeeeeeeeeeeeeeel advice between China and Australia,” he told Sunrise on Thursday.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong this month became the first minister to visit China since 2019. Albanese said to “wait and see” whether he will follow suit in 2023.
China’s reversal of its strict zero Covid policy comes after the biggest protests the one-party state has seen in more than 30 years.