When a joint media release from two Prime Ministers is headlined next steps towards quarantine-free travel between the Cook Islands and New Zealand you’d expect it to be about progress. Instead we get this:
. . . Both Prime Ministers and their Cabinets have instructed officials to continue working together to put in place all measures required to safely recommence two-way quarantine-free travel in the first quarter of 2021. . .
This bubble babble is sadly typical of the PM and her government who so often mistake media releases for action.
It means no more than a continuation of what’s been happening and progress towards opening the borders is far too slow:
The Cook Islands bubble is taking far too long to set up, there is no reason why it shouldn’t already be in place, National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“Today’s announcement of ‘next steps’ in travel between the Cook Islands and New Zealand is an utterly meaningless statement that does no more than repeat that officials are still working on the issue.
“The Prime Minister must explain the delay when a month ago she said there was ‘progress’ and that it would only take ‘a couple of weeks’ before a bubble would be up and running once both sides were happy. . .
“New Zealand officials have been and returned from the Cook Islands, although even that trip was delayed and far later than it should have been.
“The Cooks are heavily dependent on tourism, from New Zealand in particular. Pre-Covid, tourism made up 85 per cent of GDP. Getting the bubble up and running should be a high priority as it will help save jobs and livelihoods in our Pacific neighbour.
“New Zealanders and the Cook Islands need answers from the Government as to why it’s taking so long. A tepid statement that officials are working towards quarter one next year is meaningless given statements in the past.
“‘Quarter one’ could easily mean late March, which even assuming nothing goes wrong, is months away. In the meantime we’re going to see businesses fall under and both Kiwis and Cook Islanders lose their jobs. The Government needs to get on with the job immediately.
“The Government should release a copy of the ‘arrangement to facilitate quarantine-free between the Cook Islands and New Zealand’ so that all parties know what the requirements are.”
The Cooks are Covid-free and there is no community transmission in New Zealand. Why the glacial pace for opening the borders?
The bubble babble about opening the border to travellers from Australia is even worse. Steven Joyce dissects them:
. . . The Prime Minister’s reasons for further delay, as reported in the Herald yesterday, are ridiculously weak. There were basically three of them. Let’s take them in turn.
The PM is reportedly concerned that Australia could have a looser definition of a Covid flare-up than New Zealand. It seems like there is an easy solution to this. New Zealand retains sovereign control over its borders and the Government could reinstate a quarantine requirement at any time. Having a bubble doesn’t mean always agreeing with Australia’s definition of risk.
The second problem is apparently that having fewer Australians in quarantine facilities would allow more people from other countries at greater risk to come into our quarantine facilities. This would increase the numbers of people in quarantine that could have Covid.
Let’s think about that for a second. Are we really keeping people arriving from Australia in isolation, even though it’s not necessary, in order to reduce the number of people from other countries in quarantine who could have Covid? Seriously?
A lot of those people are New Zealanders who are being forced to queue for MIQ places in order to get back to family, friends and/or work.
An alternative view is that freeing up nearly half of the quarantine facilities currently taken up by travellers from Australia would allow faster processing of critical workers and Kiwis from elsewhere who are currently queuing on the other side of the border. Which would surely be a good thing.
Our biggest risk is people coming in from countries other than Australia who are in MIQ. Putting people from Australia, many of whom would be Kiwis, in MIQ increases the risk they will contract the disease from people in the same hotel.
The third problem identified is what happens to Kiwis already in Australia if we have to close the bubble again. Well, I’m thinking they would then have to use quarantine to come back. Which seems a no-brainer. And if this is an argument for not opening a bubble we will never open one.
That’s pretty much it. The Prime Minister is suggesting that we need to postpone our end of a transtasman bubble till at least February to deal with these supposedly intractable issues, which a competent set of people could solve in roughly five minutes. . .
Requiring MIQ for Trans-Tasman travellers is splitting families and friends, keeping people from visiting the dying and attending funerals, adding costs and imposing restrictions on businesses. It’s also withholding a lifeline from the beleaguered tourism industry.
Restricting freedom of movement is one of the most serious restraints a government can impose on its people.
Australia has opened its border to travellers from here. The reasons the PM has given for not reciprocating are spurious and the government should address any real issues and open the border from Australia before it goes on holiday.