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.