28 Oct 2014

No border crackdown over Ebola - Key

6:36 pm on 28 October 2014

New Zealand will continue with voluntary reporting on Ebola for now and will not be following Australia's lead on stronger new border and quarantine measures, Prime Minister John Key says.

Prime Minister John Key announces his third-term Cabinet.

Prime Minister John Key Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The Government relied on people to voluntarily present themselves to immigration authorities if they believed they had been exposed to Ebola, and it saw no need for a tougher regime, Mr Key asid.

Australia has moved to stop processing humanitarian and immigration visas from affected West African nations.

All non-permanent or temporary visas are being cancelled and permanent visa holders who have not yet arrived in Australia will be required to submit to a 21-day quarantine period.

The Ebola outbreak has killed nearly 5000 people, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Australia has not recorded a case of the virus though a number of people have been tested for the disease.

In New Zealand, people arriving at the border undergo a health check if they tell authorities they may have been exposed to Ebola. If they are cleared they are free to go, but their health condition will continue to be monitored.

Mr Key said there was only about one person a day arrives from countries that may have been affected, and the current system is adequate.

"It's a voluntary measure, so obviously there are risks if people choose to mislead the authorities but that's true of any sort of form.

"People when they come into our country all the time are asked to disclose voluntary information about where they've travelled. If they don't do that they're in breach of the law."

Mr Key said if authorities did believe there was a risk of someone bringing Ebloa into New Zealand, they have strong powers to act, and they have to trust New Zealanders or other people arriving here to act within the law.

However, he was not ruling out passport restrictions, if that became necessary.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the only three people who had had to have ongoing monitoring for Ebola were New Zealand health workers who had returned from West Africa.

Seventy-four people had arrived in New Zealand from West African countries in the past few months, he said.

The three who were monitored had since been cleared.

"They were New Zealand citizens who had worked overseas in the aid field, so trained healthcare workers who'd been to West Africa," Mr Coleman said.

"They would be picked up because when they cross the border, they've declared they'd been to West Africa so then they're asked six questions - one of them is around symptoms of Ebola and the other five relating to Ebola cases."

Dr Coleman said if authorities suspected someone arriving at the border had Ebola, they had powers to require them to undergo treatment and to be quarantined.

Labour Party acting deputy leader Annette King said while New Zealand must be vigilant, the Government needed to act with caution and not cause unnecessary panic over Ebola.

The Government should keep a close eye on the situation, respond accordingly and keep the public informed, she said.

"We've got to just be careful we don't have too much hysteria around it, but we do need to be keeping the public informed what actions the Government is taking. They may have to put some restrictions on people at the border, but at this stage, I think it would be more like monitoring people as they come through.

"You'll remember SARS and bird flu, we did move to have stronger border control of people coming into New Zealand to check their temperatures and so on, and we were capable of doing that."

Ms King believed that the voluntary regime was adequate but said New Zealand was still at risk, and its comparative distance from West Africa did not mean there was no chance of someone carrying Ebola into this country.

Police and medical staff at an Ivory Coast airport waiting for passengers flying in from Guinea.

Police and medical staff at an Ivory Coast airport waiting for passengers flying in from Guinea. Photo: AFP

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs