A trans-Tasman bubble in 8 weeks? AUS-NZ forum chair is hopeful

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Australia has extended quarantine-free travel across the ditch for New Zealanders for another 72 hours, with anyone arriving from Aotearoa now being put in hotel quarantine.

Despite that, the group tasked with forming a full trans-Tasman bubble believes it could be in place in eight weeks.

The forum has been working for 10 months on an agreement to get international travel between the two countries off the ground, with the two-way tourism trade worth more than $5 billion.

Every time it seems a bubble is close there have been setbacks, new cases or divided opinions.

But co-chair of the leadership forum Ann Sherry told Checkpoint any bubble needs to work on the basis there will be more Covid-19 cases in both countries.

“I think the idea that neither side of the Tasman is ever going to have a case when we’ve got citizens coming back from all over the world is fanciful.

“The real question then is, how do we manage the odd case that pops up as these have?”

The recent cancellation of quarantine-free travel for New Zealanders to Australia was a health response decision rather than a “political knee-jerk,” she said.

“I think the prime ministers need to keep talking to each other. My understanding is they have been and they will continue. We just need to find better mechanisms rather than ‘close the border’ being the first thing we ever do, rather than the thing we do when we’ve got real reason to do it.

“My strong preference – and I think it’s true of all businesses, everyone who’s trying to manage trans-Tasman – is that we’re not in the ‘on again, off again’ button switch; that we’ve got mechanisms that allow us to manage it.

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“What we’re talking about is managing individual cases or a couple of cases. And that’s been true in Australia as well, I think.

“When you look at the UK and other parts of the world we’re all happy that we’re not in that position. They rejected elimination as a strategy and have ended up in a complete mess. So, that’s not where we want to be.

“But if we’re going to let our citizens back in from other parts of the world, we’ve just got to have good systems for managing that, and whether they’re total quarantine, whether it’s greater testing and people coming back from overseas, we’ve just got to put better mechanisms in place for doing that.

“So I’m in favour of keeping the numbers low, people want to get on about their business. And if that requires us to have maybe small hotspots… rather than shutting complete countries out, then that’s probably a better mechanism to manage it in the long term.”

Sherry said ideally the bubble would be country to country, but if it had to be between individual states with New Zealand, that would be better than nothing.

“If that’s what we need to do to start then let’s do it that way… hopefully, first quarter this year.

“End of March is what we’re still hoping for.

“There’s so much work going on between health departments, between Border Force, there’s a lot of activity. I just think we’ve got to keep giving ourselves some deadlines to at least try and work to, otherwise it just drifts off into the never-never.

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“On both sides of the ditch we’ve got huge tourism industries, huge numbers of jobs that are just falling away from us as we procrastinate, so we’ve got to try and get something in place.

“I think the challenge has been we haven’t had coherence on the Australian side.”

She said she had been working on trying to achieve a trans-Tasman deal for about 10 months.

Advice from the Ministry of Health:

  • The recent cases of Covid-19 in Auckland and Northland have been linked to Managed Isolation and Quarantine. There is no evidence so far that suggests community transmission.
  • The locations visited by the recent cases can be found on the Ministry of Health website.
  • To help stamp out Covid-19, it’s important the right people isolate and get tested.
  • If you were at the locations of interest at the times stated, you need to: isolate away from others, call Healthline 0800 358 5453 for advice on when and where to get tested, and remain isolated until you have a negative test result.
  • If you were not at a location of interest at the stated times and you have no symptoms you do not need to be tested.
  • If you were not at any of the locations of interest at the stated times, but you have symptoms, call Healthline for advice on 0800 358 5453.
  • If you are going to get tested, remember you may have to queue. Please take food and water and continue to be kind to each other and our public health team.
  • Everyone should continue to scan QR codes using the Covid Tracer app and turn Bluetooth on to help stop the spread of Covid-19.
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