Management of international travellers

28 May 2021

Dr Peter Moodie, College Clinical Advisor

With the Australia and Rarotonga ‘travel bubble’ now open (and sometimes temporarily closed), it’s timely to review how we manage patients with suspicious respiratory and other COVID-19 symptoms.

COVID-19 isolation protocols 
The College recently published COVID-19 isolation protocols, a combined effort with the Ministry of Health to clarify who should isolate, and in what circumstances. You’ll be pleased to hear it’s been designed specifically for primary care to cut down on the time searching through multiple websites. 

Swabbing international travellers 
COVID-19 tests are free to anyone in New Zealand irrespective of nationality or residency status, but while I’ve been researching this topic, I have uncovered some interesting facts.

While we’re talking about Australian and Rarotongan travellers using health care services in Zealand it’s important to remember what our reciprocal health care agreement covers.* Medicines and hospital care, including outpatient visits, are free of charge for both nationalities’ providing that the person didn’t come to New Zealand to seek treatment.  

However, there is a sting in the tail - in the case of Australians and Rarotongans, primary care is specifically excluded. For UK residents, the Act says that they are entitled to all the benefits of a New Zealander, but as you are forbidden to claim capitation, they are also unfunded.  

The simple message - Australian and Rarotongan travellers should be charged the full practice fee excluding any GMS component.The only exception is for ACC consultations which are at least partially funded.

High index of suspicion (HIS) criteria and international travellers
In a nutshell, when treating international travellers within the travel bubble, they don’t need to be treated as high index of suspicion (HIS) cases, and their asymptomatic contacts don’t have to isolate or stay at home. However, don’t be complacent about other patients who’ve come from areas outside the travel bubble via an Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facility.

*New Zealand’s reciprocal health agreement also covers the United Kingdom.