Quarantine-free travel for seasonal workers – Expert Reaction

Starting in October, seasonal workers from Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu will be able to come to New Zealand without needing to go through MIQ.

The newly announced scheme requires Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers to have their first vaccination before departing, self-isolate for seven days, and get tested for Covid-19 on Day 0 and Day 5.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the announcement.

Professor Michael Plank, Te Pūnaha Matatini and University of Canterbury, comments:

“The decision to allow seasonal workers from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu to enter New Zealand without going into MIQ poses a very low risk. These countries have been free from community transmission of COVID-19 for a long time. The requirements for workers to be vaccinated, tested before and after travelling, and complete an isolation period are additional safeguards to further mitigate the small risk. The bigger danger would be people returning to these countries from New Zealand taking COVID-19 with them. That’s why the quarantine-free arrangement is one-way: we need to make sure we don’t export COVID-19 to the Pacific.

“That said, we’ve seen how easily Delta can breach border defences. So, it will be important that there is good surveillance testing in these Pacific countries so that, if community transmission is detected there, we can respond accordingly. There will also need to be systems in place to make sure people can’t use these Pacific counties to island-hop their way into New Zealand from elsewhere.”

Conflict of interest statement: I am partly funded by MBIE for research on mathematical modelling of COVID-19.