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The Covid India issue

Written By: - Date published: 9:13 am, April 9th, 2021 - 29 comments
Categories: chris bishop, covid-19, health, jacinda ardern, labour, national - Tags:

This is a desperately difficult issue.

India is currently experiencing a surge in Covid cases.  Per head of population the number is not huge.  But Mumbai, where a significant number of returning kiwis transit through is a hot spot.  And the number of infected people returning to the country has spiked.

Faced with the prospect of quarantine beds being overrun if current trends continue the Government has taken the step of banning people entering the country if they have been in India during the two weeks prior to travel.

From Radio New Zealand:

Travel into New Zealand from India – including for New Zealand citizens and residents – is being temporarily suspended because of high numbers of Covid-19 cases, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield confirmed this afternoon that a border worker had tested positive for Covid-19.

Bloomfield also announced 23 new positive Covid cases in managed isolation, 17 of whom had arrived from India.

Ardern says she is focusing on the new cases at the border today.

“Cases of the virus have been on the rise internationally … with surges particularly in Brazil and India… we are starting to see this global trend mirrored here,” she says.

“We are temporarily suspending entry into New Zealand for travellers from India.”

The travel ban will be from 11 April to 28 April, she says, and is expected to be temporary.

It is the first time New Zealand has stopped citizens or residents from returning.

“I absolutely understand the difficulty this temporary suspension will cause,” Ardern says. “I understand that, but I also feel a sense of responsibility and obligation to find ways to reduce risk that travellers are experiencing.”

The data is compelling.  As mentioned in this Stuff article by Keith Lynch since February this year there have been 117 cases of Covid-19 imported from India, 17 from the USA and 11 from the UK.  Modeller Rodney Jones predicts that for the foreseeable future there would be more than ten new imported cases a day given current circumstances.

From the article:

Jones’ models currently predicts there will be more than 300,000 cases per day in India in the coming week.

The current outbreak in India is centred in the state of Maharashtra. Earlier this week the state saw 60,000 cases in a single day.

The R value in the state is about 1.4-1.5.

Jones says he was under-forecasting the number of MIQ cases originating in India until recently. The forecasts used data from the entire country of India. But India is a huge country, with most arrivals in New Zealand travelling from the western states and starting their journeys in Delhi or Mumbai.

Now the model relies on data from the western Indian state of Maharashtra, where the biggest city, Mumbai, is situated.

Using this data has improved the accuracy of the modelling, he says, closely mirroring what is seen on the ground in MIQ.

“We’re still a long way from the curve bending (down in India). This is a disaster and the Indian government has been extremely slow to react, and it’s forced New Zealand to take this step,” he says.

On Thursday, Ardern said it is believed people were catching Covid-19 in India on their way to the airport, meaning the cases were not being picked up by pre-departure testing.

Jones agrees. “Moving in India in the midst of an outbreak carries more risk than it appears to in the UK or the US.”

Is it legal?  There is the right for New Zealand passport holders to return to New Zealand but the Covid legislation has very strong powers to regulate travel.  And the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act has a limitation that the rights and freedoms contained in the Act may be subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Andrew Geddis thinks with some reservations that the decision is acceptable.  From Spinoff:

However, perhaps the strongest evidence in favour of the limit being justifiable is that the government has been facing public health calls for quite some time to bar all travelers from high-risk countries. To its credit (in my view), it’s so far resisted these; not least because of the very real rights and law questions involved. It also is likely aware of the strong emotional belief most of us have that “our people” always ought to have a route back “home”. Which is completely fine with me – we elect people to represent us in all our multiplicity of commitments, not just to be technocrats that decide what objectively is best for us.

The fact the government is now prepared to face the potential emotional backlash involved in turning citizens away from the country’s border suggests to me that matters may really be turning pretty dire, and so a temporary removal of the right to enter is justified. Or, at least, I hope and trust that is the case. Because if the government has gotten this one wrong, it’s a betrayal of everything that citizenship is meant to promise.

National’s Chris Bishop has expressed support.  The Greens have expressed misgivings.  The editor of the Indian Weekender claims the community is equally incensed, outraged and shocked with the decision.

We are dealing with a really tricky and deadly virus.  Quarantine facilities are limited.  Hopefully this measure is limited and will be changed soon.

29 comments on “The Covid India issue ”

  1. Sanctuary 1

    "…The editor of the Indian Weekender claims the community is equally incensed, outraged and shocked with the decision…"

    My Tamil friends call the "Indian Weekender" the "BJP Times" and are not at all surprised that it's editor nurses all the usual inferiority complexes of ultra-nationalists. However, it is worth noting that the editor of the Indian Weekender doesn’t speak for all or even most Indians in NZ.

    More surprising is the frankly disappointing Golriz Ghaharaman, who seems incapable of seeing any issue other than through the lens of divisive intersectional politics. Her knee jerk accusations of racism on twitter come across as embittered.

    "…On Thursday, Ardern said it is believed people were catching Covid-19 in India on their way to the airport, meaning the cases were not being picked up by pre-departure testing…"

    I think our PM is being very polite….

    Anyway, it is unlikely this ban will only last two weeks. COVID is out of control in India. Local Legislative assembly general elections have just been held in five states in India and no attempts at all were made to deter huge crowds gathering for these events. The 120,000+ cases reported are only those that can afford or get access to be tested – God knows how many Dalits are getting infected. It all points to a long term ban.

    This ban hints at the future shape of the world and of travel. The developing world in particular will effectively be excluded from travelling to countries where they'll have to undertake MIQ at the cost of several thousands of dollars. A form of vaccine apartheid may be the new normal for travel for a least a decade.

  2. Michael 2

    Except Bishop also reported in Indian community newspaper in Auckland saying he opposed govt's decision. Trying to have a bet each way and caluclating he won't be caugh out. Bishop = cunning and devious, not very bright.

    • Nice spot Michael. Something about Bishop really grates with me.

      My son and partner live in his former constituency.They told me that he is not popular and were not surprised he lost the seat at the election last year.

      • Anne 2.1.1

        Imo, arrogance is his biggest problem. Its common among those born with a silver spoon in their mouths and who have had everything handed to them on a silver platter.

        • Muttonbird

          He speaks out of both sides of his mouth.

          He and his office were responsible for hacking the Budget. He will still have a team actively looking for ways to breach public service systems in order to make the government look bad.

          He’ll also be the go-to for disgruntled right wing public servants seeking to undermine the government with leaks. Miraculously he came up this week with an unpublished vaccine report from the MoH…

          Extremely untrustworthy.

          • Marcus Morris

            I think it was Bishop who teamed up with the despicable Woodhouse in an attempt to embarrass the Government re the returnees who got special dispensation to travel Christchurch at the height of last year's lockdown. I cant stand the arrogance of the man. Totally untrustworthy.

    • mickysavage 2.2

      Do you have a link Michael? I have seen the comment but thought I should back it up with details.

      • mickysavage 2.2.1

        Found it:

        Meanwhile National Party has also slammed
        the government’s alleged targeting of one
        country over the other instead of creating
        “smart borders we were promised.”
        National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson
        Chris Bishop has come out in full support of
        the New Zealand-Indian community and is
        urging the government to improve their border
        management rather than taking recourse to
        travel suspension.
        National appreciates our New Zealand-
        Indian community and places a huge value on
        everything they contribute to our country both
        economically and socially, Mr Bishop says.


  3. Muttonbird 3

    This is why pre-departure testing is, was, and always will be usless and dangerous.

    It is incumbent upon New Zealand citizens and residents returning from overseas to protect New Zealand. They can do that by isolating for 14 days prior to departure and taking maximum precautions during travel. Still a risk, sure, but much less of a risk if everyone plays ball.

    Clearly not enough people are doing this, preferring to put personal considerations above those of the nation.

    • Count titular 3.1

      Lol have you ever been to Mumbai airport champ ? You could isolate for a year but the trip to and through the airport is akin to swimming in an open sewer.

      [Well done! You tricked a Moderator to approve you as a new user in order to bypass your permanent ban. You trolls are such reluctant and slow learners, I must say – Incognito]

      [lprent: probably me. I need to read the ban list when I wander on here occasionally. ]

      [Yes, it was you 😀 However, you wouldn’t have seen this user name in the ban list, as it was not there previously. It is actually more time-consuming than that but I don’t mind doing (the) shitty work around here 😉 – Incognito]

    • Anne 3.2

      To be fair, most of them might have done the 14 days isolation. But they still have to get to the airport and be processed through it before getting on their plane. That is where the experts suspect the problem lies.

    • lprent 3.3

      This is why pre-departure testing is, was, and always will be us[e]less and dangerous.

      I've always considered it pretty much of a waste of time. As has been pointed out, travelling to the airport and just being in the airports is a fraught issue – especially in high density population areas. It makes pre-quarantining and pre-testing before travel a moot procedure.

      The best pre-flight procedure would be to have a solid fast turn around lab test at the airport with the high end analytical lab present there and less than an hour processing time. Do it just before boarding a plane to catch anyone who was already capable of infecting others on the plane(s). Still means that people will become infectious at MIQ – but hopefully without infecting others on the plane.

      Not one of those instant tests – the published independent checks on those make it clear that they're only useful to find out if you definitely should have a real test. Their false negative rates look pretty damn high from the stats I glanced through.

      I see no signs of the airports or airlines doing that. Anything less than that is pretty much window dressing. Our MIQ system is safer because at least that doesn't make travellers feeling complacent.

      I'd do the same from Brazil right now. But our traffic levels from there are really low. It isn't going to blip the secure quarantine treatment beds. If they do wind up with another state starting to take off again with travellers from there drastically kicking up secure quarantine treatment beds from a single source.

      I suspect with the rates of increase in infection for India, previous detected infection in MIQ from passengers from Mumbai and Delhi, and the current volume of traffic from the region that this is the right decision.

      I'm less concerned with trouble this causes citizens who chose the risk of travelling to and from India, than I am with my own 62yo arse, my fathers 82yo arse, and the rest of my family and friends who didn't choose to take that risk.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 3.4

      This is why pre-departure testing is, was, and always will be us[e]less and dangerous.

      An MIQ voucher, airline ticket(s) and travel plans are a lot to put at risk by returning a positive pre-departure test. Requiring a negative pre-departure test likely influences behaviour. If intending returnees are responsible citizens then that prudent behaviour would continue after their test, i.e. before, during and after their stay in MIQ.

      Four travellers fined for entering New Zealand without pre-departure Covid-19 test [30 March 2021]

      But Professor Baker recommended two other measures to improve the value of the pre-departure tests.

      "We have to keep remembering this isn't a substitute for MIQ", but "travellers should all change their behaviour for at least a week before they travel [to reduce their risk of catching the virus], and that information should be really clearly communicated to them.

      "And the second thing is, they require a negative test result and we could be using our booking system to record a lot more information about that test, so they record what laboratory they're going to use, when they're going to get it and so on."

      A managed isolation and quarantine spokesperson said they knew of 40 people who had cancelled their spot in managed isolation because their pre-departure test had been positive.

      COVID-19: More scrutiny required for pre-departure testing – Baker

      • simbit 3.4.1

        “Requiring a negative pre-departure test likely influences behaviour.”


        Wife and kids just out of MIQ, avoiding contact with her father (heart) and sister (frontline health) for 5 more days. Self-isolated for 17 days in Canada, 3 Covid tests @$250 plus tax = $820 (self-administered, and here’s the risk: people tend not to jab swab as deep as a pro…). One way AirNZ flights, $7k. Overnight layover in LA (!), $300. Much anxiety. And yes, they are loving being home. The coffee is evidently to die for…

        • Drowsy M. Kram

          yes Glad your family made it home safely, and buoyed by the precautions they've taken for everyone's wellbeing.

  4. Stuart Munro 4

    The issue will play well for Labour – showing a degree of caution that bubbling with Australia seems to lack.

    Though it may play large in the Indian community, as a major source of faux student immigration, dowry and employment scams, they will not garner public support as readily as they might have before adopting those practices.

    The justice/epidemiological wisdom call is somewhat harder to make – but whatever motivations may be attributed to the Cabinet decision, it's safe to say that racism is not a significant driver, so that public health is the presumable reason for it. Absent existential threats to those remaining in India, public health is a hard argument to beat.

    No doubt Golriz and Ricardo will cry wolf, and some looser MPs will try to ingratiate themselves with the community in hopes of shaking loose a few donations.

  5. India recorded 131,000 new cases yesterday, but the testing rate in India is one tenth of that per million of that in the UK, for instance.

    The reality is that India may be experiencing a quarter of a million new cases a day or more.


  6. Foreign Waka 6

    The question here is how can an outbreak within NZ be avoided. The alternative is shutting the boarder down, going to level 4. For all those money hungry out there this would completely devastate the country. We have currently 160 odd infected cases in isolation, no one in the wider population is vaccinated. Honestly, I don't give a hoot, we don't need to have dead people to find a valid argument for the press.
    The people returning also have a responsibility and can proof right there what their loyalty really means.

  7. satty 7

    Another interesting information would be…

    How many people could not provide a COVID test result or had a positive COVID test result and therefore were not allowed to board a flight to NZ?

    One would think with such a high number of COVID cases in MIQ, there would be a significant larger number of people that didn't make the flight because of the pre-test.

    • lprent 7.1

      Yeah. There has been a curious lack of published detail on that.

      If you got a positive test before heading to the airport, then why would you go? Same if you didn't have test and were required to show one.

      You'd have to assume at present that everyone landing here had one and then turned infectious after arrival. I wonder how many were detected at day 3 vs day 12?

  8. gsays 8

    If the decision to close the border to some is alright with Michael Bott then it's alright with me.


  9. Tiger Mountain 9

    Green MP Golriz asked a fair enough question on the India travel suspension imo. And now the PM has issued a ‘not ruling out’ statement.


    The UK, USA, Brazil and others have patchy and inconsistent COVID track records in various ways according to many media reports. UK and USA are perceived Anglo nations and the Govt spin should have covered that given NZ’s sizeable Indian population.

    The G20 usual suspects have been first and or quantity recipients of vaccines while the rest of the world waits.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 9.1

      70-75% of those that test positive on arrival in NZ are from India ( via Mideast)

      It would be likely the proportion of all travellers that arrive here who started out in India would be below or around 15%.

      Its the difference between those 2 proportions thats the issue thats been dealt with not how other countries deal with it.

  10. mary_a 10

    With C-19 still running rampant internationally, plus with new variants of the virus developing on a regular basis, the time has come to shut NZ's borders indefinitely as protection, until a more positive clearer picture of the behaviour of C-19 begins to emerge. No negotiation, no exceptions. Shutting the border door seems to be the only safety means at present to keep C-19 out.

    NZers living abroad have had plenty of time to return home if that has been their plan, since over a year ago. Due to the uncertainty of C-19, these are not normal times, in particular where overseas travel is concerned.

  11. There are no direct flights between NZ and India.

    Quarantine all arrivals via Emirates??

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