NZ reaches alert level 1 but businesses want clarity over borders

As New Zealanders wake up to life being essentially back to normal, there is one glaring restriction that remains – the country’s border.


Businesses are pushing the government to give a clear timeline on when the border will start to open. Photo: Supplied

Under Covid-19 alert level 1 it is still closed to all but New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, or those granted exemptions, and those arriving must undergo 14 days in quarantine.

Businesses say they need more certainty so that they can plan ahead and are pushing the government to give a clear timeline on when the border will start to open.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the border was a critical first line of defence against the virus.

“This freedom from restrictions relies heavily on the ongoing role that our border controls will play in keeping the virus out”, she said.

Ardern said it was a harsh reality that Covid-19 would be in the world for some time.

“We’re taking a very cautious approach because of the fact that you can get false negatives out of testing,” she said.

She said the government was working up a new set of rules for deciding when it would be safe to open up to other countries, such as Australia or Pacific nations.

However she wouldn’t put a timeframe on when that might be.

“Ultimately, I don’t want New Zealand businesses in particular, or even Kiwis who might be wanting to travel across the ditch to be given a false start. I’d rather share timelines when we have much more certainty and the moment we just don’t, we do need to act cautiously,” Ardern said.

“New Zealand is currently ahead of Australia in terms of our progress, they are making progress state-by-state, but it’s not universal. So we will keep up those conversations with Australia, we will keep preparing, but I do not have a date to share at this time.”

Aviation New Zealand CEO John Nicholson wanted the government to be more transparent.

“The opening of the Australian bubble is critically important, the sooner that can happen, and we can bring international tourists back to New Zealand, that’s going to make a big difference,” he said.

Nicholson said talk from politicians and commentators about getting the borders open “ASAP” was not helpful.

“Knowing what’s got to happen, these things do take time, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

“I think there’s a lot of posturing going on but it may not be informed posturing, and that’s the part to me that creates unreasonable expectations.

“So I think in something like this we do have to manage peoples’ expectations very carefully”, he said.

The CEO of Trusts Arena in Auckland Mark Gosling said while the new found freedom under alert level 1 was great news for domestic businesses, it was little comfort for those venues which relied on big international acts.

“If you look at it from Mt Smart Stadium’s point of view, the NRL is now being played in Australia, and they still can’t book an international act,” he said.

Gosling said venues could host a sell-out gig now – if they were allowed to bring in the talent.

“The government’s obviously allowing in some cases some access by some people through the border, but that’s going to have to become a lot more transparent and it needs to become a lot easier than it is right now in order for it to make a substantial difference,” he said.

Gosling said those events had a long lead time, and businesses needed some indication so that they could prepare.

National’s Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith agreed, and said with the focus shifting to economic recovery, the government’s approach was short-sighted.

“Frankly, we need a better plan than just government spending on an industrial scale, and waiting for a vaccine, and that’s what we’ve got at the moment”, he said.

Goldsmith said there needed to be an “absolute focus” on opening the border to certain groups or countries.

“To restore major industries that are still suffering. International education is one, and that’s a real opportunity for New Zealand if we move with speed, and with caution”, Goldsmith said.

The government said it was not just sealing the border and standing still.

However it would only ease restrictions when it was safe and it would not risk the country losing the hard fought for freedoms of alert level 1.

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