Covid-19: Pre-departure test extended to all passengers from next week

Arrivals from all countries – except Australia, Antarctica and most Pacific Islands – will be required to present evidence of a negative Covid-19 test from Monday.

Arrivals from all countries – except Australia, Antarctica and most Pacific Islands – will be required to present evidence of a negative Covid-19 test from Monday.

Pre-departure testing requirements will extend to travellers from most countries from Tuesday, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.

“The change will come into force for all flights arriving in New Zealand after 11:59pm (NZT) on Monday 25 January, to minimise disruption for those passengers with imminent departures. Other countries will be considered for exclusion if their situations change,” Hipkins said in a statement.

Travellers from Australia, Antarctica and most Pacific Islands – including Fiji, Samoa, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu – are exempt, but passengers on inbound flights from all other destinations will require the test.

From February 8, anyone failing to show evidence of a negative approved test or medical certificate will incur a fine of $1000.

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Tests are required 72 hours prior to departure. RT-PCR tests, LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) and viral antigen tests are all accepted forms of tests.

The high rates of infection around the world prompted the roll out. Hipkins explained that most global air routes are of “critical concern for the foreseeable future”.

“New Zealand is currently in a good position with no community cases, but we continue to take action with very specific steps to further strengthen our borders in response to what we’re seeing overseas.”

Cases are being caught at the border daily with infection origins spanning the globe. There has been no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand for months.

The introduction of blanket pre-departure testing requirements follows the announcement of day zero or day one testing for passengers travelling from places other than Australia, Antarctica and most Pacific islands, and pre-departure testing requirements for those arriving from the United Kingdom and United States.

The suite of new measures added to New Zealand’s Covid-19 response are in the wake of the discovery of two new highly transmissible strains. The UK and South African strains have both been detected in managed isolation and quarantine.

“New Zealand already has some of the most stringent border protection measures in the world. Today’s amendments further strengthen that position in line with the Government’s overall elimination strategy, and more measures can be added as necessary,” Hipkins said.

Airlines will play a key role in checking passengers’ documentation before their journey begins. On arrival, customs staff will check arrival cards and inspect test documents.

RT-PCR tests, LAMP and viral antigen tests are all acceptable pre-departure tests.

Getty Images

RT-PCR tests, LAMP and viral antigen tests are all acceptable pre-departure tests.

Hipkins said: “It is critical we acknowledge that these new requirements add complexity for people wanting to get here – and ensure support is in place. We thank them for their cooperation, as it’s what’s helping keep New Zealand safe while cases continue to accelerate overseas.”

Justin Tighe-Umbers​, the executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand (BARNZ), said the latest requirements are supported by its member airlines, which include Air New Zealand, Emirates, Virgin Australia, Qatar Airways, Air China, American Airlines.

“Our members support pre-departure testing where it is required and this is in line with what the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been calling for governments around the world to implement,” Tighe-Umbers said in a statement.

The new measures align with pre-departure testing requirements already introduced by some airlines, and is in addition to the personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements for both travellers and crew.

Tighe-Umbers believes digital health passport requirements will become one of the next measures to roll out as vaccination programmes get underway around the world. These passports, or travel passes, will validate pre-departure tests and proof of vaccinations.

Since the UK and US pre-departure testing requirements rolled out, Hipkins noted there’s been a high level of compliance.

“It’s great to see people doing the right thing for their fellow passengers, airline staff and the New Zealand public,” he said.

Countries and territories not included in the expanded pre-departure requirement:

  • Antarctica
  • Australia
  • The Cook Islands
  • Federated States of Micronesia
  • Fiji
  • Kiribati
  • Marshall Islands
  • Nauru
  • New Caledonia
  • Niue
  • Palau
  • Samoa
  • Solomon Islands
  • Tokelau
  • Tonga
  • Tuvalu
  • Vanuatu
  • Wallis and Futuna