The change was announced by, New Zealand's COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced today.
“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,” Damien O’Connor said.
“We need to take a cautious approach to opening up quarantine-free travel with the Pacific. While Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu haven’t had any community cases of COVID-19 we know first-hand how quickly Delta can spread if it gets in,” Chris Hipkins said.
“To minimise risk we are putting in place additional health measures for these workers. These include requirements to be vaccinated with at least one dose pre-departure, complete a period of self-isolation on arrival and return negative COVID-19 tests at Day 0 and Day 5.
“We are starting solely with RSE workers for several reasons. 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.”
Damien O’Connor said it also 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 normally come through New Zealand each year, with approximately 10,500 being 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.
“We will be closely monitoring this first stage of one-way quarantine-free travel. Our intention remains to broaden eligibility for quarantine-free entry to 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.
“We thank Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu for their close cooperation with us on this significant step in reconnecting our countries.
“I’d also like to thank the horticulture and viticulture sector leaders for working so constructively with us in reaching this announcement,” Damien O’Connor said.
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.