OPINION: Questions have to be asked about the Government's Covid strategy.
“We want to provide certainty to the horticulture industry that we are moving forward with safe quarantine-free travel for RSE workers in time for the upcoming picking season,” O’Connor says.
Hipkins says there are several reasons why the programme will begin solely with RSE workers.
“RSE workers come to New Zealand in a cohort, and stay in employer-arranged accommodation. This helps mitigate any additional risk from Covid-19 by ensuring they go into self-isolation in a pre-organised place immediately upon arrival,” he says.
To minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission, Hipkins says, additional health measures have been put in place, including requirements that workers be vaccinated, complete a period of self-isolation on arrival in New Zealand and return negative Covid-19 tests at Day 0 and Day 5.
O’Connor says the decision reflects the important benefits that flow from the RSE scheme for New Zealand, Pacific partner countries, workers, and their families and communities.
Up to 14,400 RSE workers typically enter New Zealand each year, with approximately 10,500 in the country at peak harvesting times pre-Covid.
“Substantial planning has been under way both in New Zealand’s horticulture and viticulture sectors and in our partner countries for the arrival of these workers, with some incoming flights deferred in August and September because of New Zealand’s Alert Level 4 settings,” says O’Connor.
“We will be closely monitoring this first stage of one-way quarantine-free travel. Our intention remains to broaden eligibility for quarantine-free entry into New Zealand from these countries and Tokelau when we can be sure it is safe to do so. In the meantime, other people entering New Zealand from these countries will need to meet existing MIQ requirements.”
“I’d also like to thank the horticulture and viticulture sector leaders for working so constructively with us in reaching this announcement,” says O’Connor.
Officials in New Zealand are working with partner Pacific countries and the industry on the final measures that need to be in place, with exact flight dates in October to be confirmed.