Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says people can also expect to be able to receive a fourth vaccine dose within the next couple of months; the Grounded Kiwis court decision is unlikely to be appealed; and the full reopening of the international border is being delayed by visa processing, not public health concerns.

Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield appeared before the Health Select Committee this morning under questioning from opposition MPs.

When announcing the August reopening of the international border last week, the government signalled the requirement for a pre-departure test would be dropped by the time the international border fully re-opens at the end of July.

Hipkins today told the Committee that was likely to be sooner rather than later, but the advice received so far suggested the policy was of significantly less benefit than it had been even two months ago.

"It won't be making a significant contribution to the rate of hospitalisation that we're having at the moment," he said.

ACT leader David Seymour was at the committee, and in a statement said the government should immediately ditch pre-departure tests.

"Tourist operators say we're not really open for business until we remove the friction from coming here," he said.

"We have got our assumptions back to front. If the government cannot justify restricting people, it should stop restricting them. If the Minister can't justify a reason for pre-departure testing, it's time to dump it."

He said people who were having costs imposed on them deserved a much sharper analysis of the cost-benefit analysis.

Hipkins said it was not unreasonable to want such analysis, but the government still needed to consider the facts and what alternatives could be used.

"If you were deciding where the best place to do testing is, it's on-arrival testing rather than pre-departure testing because actually on-arrival testing then gives you information you can follow up on."

However, he said on-arrival rapid antigen tests were not a perfect system either.

"Followed up with PCR testing, either you don't get a positive or you don't get a sufficient viral load ... to be able to do a whole genome sequence. But we're getting enough [now] to actually give us a really good indication of what's coming across the border."

The reasons for keeping the testing in place at this stage was based on statistical modelling on the effect of positive cases coming through the border, and he expected to get updated data on that soon.

Exactly when the requirement will be dropped is a decision linked to the planning for future variants. Hipkins said that strategy was still being worked on, but a variant that could set the government back to square one was considered among the least likely scenarios.

MIQ and border settings

The government was unlikely to appeal the High Court's ruling that the MIQ lottery system did not sufficiently allow individual circumstances to be considered and prioritised, Hipkins said, but a final decision had not yet been made.

He said MIQ was considered unlikely to be needed at the same scale as it had been, and the wind-down of the system was progressing well, but it could be stood up again if needed.

"We're down to, I think, only four facilities left in operation. It's a very small number of people, it tends to be refugees - people coming in from Ukraine, Afghanistan, etcetera - and I think we might've still had a bit of work around the Antarctica programme where people are isolating in New Zealand before heading down to the ice."

The border announcement last week, which sees non-visa-waiver countries able to apply from the end of July, was now more to do with the ability to process visas than any kind of public health pressure, he said.

While public health had been a factor in February, as time went on it became more about ensuring capacity for visa application processing.

He said the applications for the one-off 2021 Residence visa were also still working their way through the system and required a lot of resources to process.

"To be fair, the immigration system was under pressure before Covid-19 and ... in the period just before we became the government ... there was some reorganisation of the way some processing was happening and so on that I'm not sure was delivering what was necessarily required."

Fourth doses and mandates

Hipkins said technical experts had indicated it would be best for people to have a fourth dose of the vaccine no earlier than six months after the third dose.

"We're preparing to make provision for that, so within the next couple of months people will be able to get that dose".

He had also asked for more advice on whether people who had adverse reactions to a vaccine should be granted an exemption from further vaccinations under the mandated workforce requirements.

He thought it was reasonable, for people who had severe reactions.

The number of people covered by the mandates were constantly shrinking, he said, and while there was no specific timeframe for broad removal the number of people covered by them would continue to decrease over time.

Hipkins said the government had thought about the need for a full review of its Covid-19 Response, possibly in the form of a Royal Commission, but was concerned doing it too soon would take health experts away from dealing with the pandemic itself.