Pre-departure COVID-19 test for travellers from the UK and the US from 15 January

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Travellers from the United Kingdom or the United States bound for New Zealand will be required to get a negative test result for COVID-19 before departing, and work is underway to extend the requirement to other long haul flights to New Zealand, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed today.

“The new PCR test requirement, foreshadowed last week, will require travellers from the UK or the US to have a written form, certified by a laboratory or another form of approved evidence, showing a negative result in the 72 hours prior to departure. It will come into force on flights arriving in New Zealand after 11.59pm on 15 January,” Chris Hipkins said.

“Work is underway on similar measures for travellers using most other long haul routes to New Zealand. We expect to be in a position to provide more details within the next week – after we get a more complete picture of testing regimes and capabilities in overseas jurisdictions.     

“A detailed plan to put the new requirement into action in the UK and the US is being developed with airlines and will be widely communicated in time for 15 January via the Immigration NZ website and contact centre, the SafeTravel website and communications directly to airlines so they can contact booked travellers.

“A very limited number of people may be exempt, including if they have a medical certificate verifying they have been examined within 72 hours prior to their departure, but are unable to undertake a test for medical reasons and do not exhibit symptoms of COVID-19.

“Enforcement will be managed by an amendment to New Zealand’s Air Border Order to make arriving in New Zealand via the air border without evidence of a negative approved test an infringement offence.

“We know this will add to the stress of travellers wanting to get to New Zealand and have made this decision carefully. It will provide further assurance for New Zealanders at a time when infections from the virus appear to be accelerating overseas.  

“The managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system remains the bedrock of our border security. The new step is a further precaution to support our goal of making summer unstoppable and is consistent with the overall elimination strategy,” Chris Hipkins said.

“The pre-departure test is an additional requirement to the day zero/day one testing and stay in their room in MIQ requirement for arrivals from higher risk countries that came into force last Friday. Travellers from the UK and the US will still have to go through New Zealand’s 14-day quarantine regime.

“It reduces the risk of infected passengers on international long haul flights infecting other passengers with COVID-19.

“We intend the test to also have an added benefit of encouraging extra-cautious behaviour before people fly and during flights and layovers that will minimise exposure to COVID-19.”

Chris Hipkins said the Government is moving at pace to match or exceed the kinds of fast-changing travel requirements in many countries and at transit points for air routes to New Zealand.

“Most of the main transit hubs for flights from the United Kingdom to New Zealand require passengers to have had a negative test 72 hours prior to departure, and Japan and China have currently stopped all flights from the United Kingdom.

“It’s important, however, that we put our own safeguards in place. We’re at the end of long haul flights or chains of flights and any actions we take to further strengthen our border must be based on our own unique set of circumstances.    

“We’re stepping though the options carefully to minimise any overlapping requirements on travellers or airlines. 

“We will announce these additional protections in stages over the coming weeks,” Chris Hipkins said.  

Summary of the current long haul flight situation as it relates to New Zealand:

  • Some countries and territories through which passengers from the United Kingdom transit to come to New Zealand, such as Japan and China (including Hong Kong), are not allowing people from the United Kingdom to enter their countries, including for transit.
  • Only Air New Zealand flies direct from the US to New Zealand.
  • People from the United Kingdom could fly to New Zealand via the United States if they can enter that country. However, they require a viral test (NAAT or antigen test) 72 hours before travelling.
  • Singapore re-opened transit from the United Kingdom on 29 December requiring anyone transiting from the United Kingdom through Singapore to have taken a PCR test 72 hours before boarding and to remain on the aircraft while transiting.
  • Taiwan allows transit for passengers from the United Kingdom if they have a PCR test within three working days of date of departure.
  • People from the United Kingdom (and most other countries) transiting through the United Arab Emirates either directly to New Zealand or via Australia to New Zealand are required to have a PCR test 96 hours before boarding. Passengers travelling to New Zealand on these flights should take the test up to 72 hours prior to boarding.
  • The main route into New Zealand which does not have pre-departure testing requirements is Doha/Qatar – which will be covered by the amended border order.

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