Friday, 16 Apr 2021

Editorial: Transtasman travel bubble could give a much needed boost

With New Zealand surfing an America’s Cup high and a two-way transtasman travel bubble looking likely, there’s a bit more hope around.

Further news on an Anzac flight corridor could emerge from today’s Cabinet meeting.

Quarantine-free travel with Australia would not be risk-free. It could result in new Covid-19 clusters and potentially stressful and costly times for travellers caught up in them.

Easy entry for Kiwis to several Australian states in the past six months has been disrupted by occasional outbreaks here.

“Our goal though is that once we open [the bubble] to be able to do it safely,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.”To do it in a way that people understand we may have short-term closures and to enable us to have a bubble that essentially sticks.”

At this stage of the pandemic, with vaccination programmes under way in both countries, the likely benefits finally seem to be worth taking the plunge. And really it’s more like jumping in a puddle. University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker calls the coronavirus risk from Australians “incredibly low”.

Just under 30,000 of this country’s frontline border and defence staff, and healthcare workers have received shots, a month into the programme.

By the start of May, when any travel change is likely to occur, vaccinations will be moving on to people at special risk because of age or underlying health issues.

The economy, and especially the tourism sector, would benefit from the bubble boost. It could be a financial bridge to wider reopening next year. An influx of Australian tourists may be the difference between businesses surviving or not. Many travel agents have had to find other work.

Air New Zealand has plans to fly two non-stop services a week between Auckland and Hobart for the first time in two decades.

Individuals would have to assess whether crossing the ditch before vaccination is for them. Initially, there would be keen demand from those wanting to visit friends and family.

While the past year has given Kiwis a good excuse to see more of our country, being able to fly overseas would release a pressure valve.

This whole process could be a way of shifting people’s mindsets and introducing new approaches.

Baker says a transtasman bubble would open up 40 per cent of MIQ places to travellers from countries with high case numbers. He advises keeping intakes from those countries at current levels.

“We could … perhaps close some of the MIQ facilities in Auckland where the consequences of an outbreak are much worse.

“I think this is a time when we do need to think in a very strategic way how to manage risk for New Zealand for the next few months.”

It is important to bear in mind the bigger picture. These are steps towards eventual reopening, with time to iron out problems.

Australia and traditional travel hub Singapore are in talks for a bubble. Should New Zealand get involved, that could help smooth the way to wider international travel.

The Government has the chance to set the country on a forward-focused course, after a year of cautious management of the pandemic.

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