Select Page

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission has rightly said in a statement released on 9 April that the NZ Government needs to be more transparent about suspending incoming travel from India for two weeks until 28 April.

Over the past year, there have been repeated demands to suspend or ban flights from countries where Covid-19 infection rates were raging. At every media conference that this was raised, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was at pains to repeatedly reiterate that it simply cannot stop NZ citizens from returning home as it would contravene a basic human right.

Earlier when infection rates raged out of control in the UK, the USA and Europe, the NZ Government never thought it necessary to limit or suspend incoming travel despite a constant clamour from several quarters, including epidemiologists and other medical experts, to take action. Prime Minister Ardern’s constant refrain was always the same: citizens can’t not be allowed to return to NZ.

However, human rights legal experts have pointed out that under extenuating circumstances, governments had the prerogative to limit or suspend incoming travel even of its own citizens if such action would be in the interest of the greater good of the greatest number, provided such a suspension was justifiable and was necessarily temporary.

The NZ Government has ticked this “temporary” box by stating that the suspension is for two weeks. However, it is yet to provide detailed reasoning that the suspension was justified. Besides, there is no guarantee that it will not be extended.

The Human Rights Commission has rightly asked to know what are the detailed reasons that has led the Ardern Government to suspend travel from India for two weeks.

The Government must be transparent and must come clean on detailing what specific facts prompted it to take such action. Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has been quoted in Stuff saying he hadn’t specifically advised the Government to reduce the number of people travelling from high-risk countries or halting the flights.

So where did the advice come from? What was the basis of this decision? This and other details on how such a decision impinging on one of the basic human rights of citizens was taken is exactly what the Human Rights Commission is asking.

It is important to know these reasons because that would provide transparency on how the Government will go about deciding whether the suspension will end on 28 April or will be extended. The New Zealand citizen has the right to know. Not being completely transparent on the process will lay the Government open to criticism of arbitrariness –or worse.

It is to be noted that at no point prior to this week did the NZ Government deem that passengers coming in from other high-risk countries with infection rates higher than those of India were any threat to New Zealand, let alone entertainers, sportspeople or yachting “crews”.

The suspension will go down well among a section of New Zealanders (there are still a sizable number of Kiwis who oppose even the transtasman bubble scheduled to open up shortly). It will also take the attention away from the Ardern’s Government’s sub-par handling of the vaccine rollout and the repeated failures at its quarantine facilities.

While medical experts and the Opposition have been pushing for a dedicated, purpose-built quarantine facility, the Labour Government has fobbed this off. Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said on television that by the time such a facility was built, there might be no need for them.

If there indeed there was a facility like that, there would have been no need for denying NZ citizens their absolute fundamental right to return to their country of citizenship without delay simply because of the incompetence of its government.

It is still not too late. There can still be dedicated facilities for citizens returning from high-risk countries like India and Brazil. Additionally, the NZ Government could make it mandatory to accept pre-boarding Covid-19 results only from its dedicated panel of doctors and labs in those countries – the same that it uses for assessing applications for residency.

These measures are easy to implement and will certainly prevent the need for extending the suspension deadline beyond 28 April.

First appeared in The Indian Weekender on 10.04.2021