The New Zealand government said it will not require travellers from China to produce a negative COVID-19 test on arrival, bucking a trend that has seen a number of countries implement testing measures as COVID cases surge in China.
New Zealand’s COVID-19 minister, Ayesha Verrall, said in a statement on Wednesday that a public health risk assessment had concluded visitors from China would not contribute significantly to the number of cases in the country.
“There is minimal public health risk to New Zealand,” the minister said.
“Officials have done a public health risk assessment including working through scenarios of potential case numbers among travellers from China. This confirmed these visitors won’t contribute significantly to our COVID case numbers meaning entry restrictions aren’t required or justified,” the minister said.
Officials will be asking some travellers from China to do voluntary tests to gather more information, which Verrall said reflected New Zealand’s concern alongside that of the World Health Organization (WHO) about China’s lack of information sharing.
New Zealand is also planning to trial testing waste-water on international flights to see if this can replace targeted and voluntary testing of individuals.
A number of countries including Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States are requiring that travellers from China produce a negative COVID test over concerns about the scale of the country’s outbreak and scepticism over Beijing’s health statistics.
Health officials from the 27-member European Union are due to meet on Wednesday to build a coordinated response to the implications of increased travel from China.
Most EU countries favour pre-departure COVID testing for travellers from China, the European Commission said on Tuesday.
China, which has been largely shut off from the world since the pandemic began in late 2019, will stop requiring inbound travellers to quarantine from January 8. But it will still demand that arriving passengers get tested before they begin their journeys.
Meanwhile, WHO officials met Chinese scientists on Tuesday, after having invited them to present detailed data on viral sequencing and share hospitalisation, deaths and vaccinations data before the meeting.
The WHO will communicate later, probably at a Wednesday news briefing, the result of that meeting. A spokesperson earlier said the agency expected a “detailed discussion” about circulating variants in China and globally.
Infections in China have spiked after the country dropped its strict zero-COVID policy on December 7.
All international arrivals in New Zealand are asked to test if they become symptomatic, with the country providing free tests at the airport.