Why were we waiting?

07/04/2021

At last we will be able to cross back and forwards across the Tasman without the need to quarantine from April 19th.

Why has it taken so long?

. . . On Tuesday Jacinda Ardern announced the Director-General of Health, Doctor Ashley Bloomfield, deemed the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from Australia to New Zealand is “low and that quarantine-free travel is safe to commence’’.

But on further inquiry from Newsroom, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins revealed he’d been in regular discussions with Bloomfield for six months and the health boss’ “assessment that Australia’s a low-risk country has been consistent for some time’’.

The hold-up was Bloomfield’s advice that “the systems have not been in place to allow for safe green zone travel both ways between both countries’’.

The systems officials have been working on have been focused on airports and how travellers make the trip from one end to the other safely, keeping bubble travellers separate from other incoming flights that may have Covid-positive passengers, and the contact tracing and processes for opening, pausing and in some cases closing the bubble if there were an outbreak in either country.

Talk to airports and they’ll tell you they’ve had their systems ready to go since August last year when health officials gave the all-clear to Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington.

The only advice the Ministry of Health has come back to airports with since then is extra cleaning when the bubble opens up, and other routine measures.

In the case of Wellington Airport, no managed isolation and quarantine flights land directly in the capital from overseas countries, so mitigating risks around mixing up trans-Tasman passengers with those potentially exposed overseas is and always has been non-existent.

And despite the political pressure ramping up from both National and ACT, the Government has been happy to continue with the go-slow citing a “cautious’’ approach in the name of public health and safety.

The reality is other than tourism operators and those whose businesses are directly impacted by tourist arrivals, most other New Zealanders accept it’s worth taking the time to get it right. . . 

In other words the government didn’t want to risk any political capital, preferring to pander to the fearful rather than promoting the low risk of opening a Trans-Tasman bubble.

It put polls before people – the ones separated from family and friends, the ones who couldn’t get to visit ill relatives before they died, the ones who couldn’t go to funerals, the ones who missed celebrations.

And it played on the pandemic paranoia for political gain with no heed for the financial and emotional stress tourism businesses, their owners and staff are under nor for the economic cost to the country of the needless delay.


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