Trans-Tasman travel bubble: Why it's the right time to start

OPINION: Tomorrow marks a year since New Zealand's border was sealed shut to all but residents and citizens. Now, the Government appears poised to throw open the border to Australia; Stuff understands the long-awaited quarantine-free trans-Tasman bubble could start mid-April.
There will be many who are anxious that our level one freedoms could be in jeopardy with the move, but here are five reasons it's the right time to finally inflate the bubble.

Is the trans-Tasman bubble finally going to inflate?

1) Vaccine rollout

By the end of March, 50,000 New Zealand borders workers and their household contacts will be vaccinated. By mid-April, when the bubble is underway, this workforce should be immune.

Across the Tasman, the rollout is further advanced: 200,000 people have already been vaccinated, with another 200,000 doses available next week.

Early studies have shown vaccines significantly reduce infection and transmission, meaning there will be a much-reduced chance of Covid-19 leaking into the community from the border. Why does that matter for the trans-Tasman bubble? An outbreak could shut the bubble down, leading to thousands being stranded on both sides of the Tasman. By waiting until mid-April, the chance of this happening is much lower.

* Covid-19: National says border with Australia should be opened now
* Covid-19: Vaccines on the agenda as Parliament returns
* Jacinda Ardern and the trans-Tasman bubble trust deficit

2) The risk was already low

Figures released to Stuff has revealed 43 travellers from Australia tested positive for Covid-19 in the past year. Forty of those were in the first two months of our borders being shut, and since then, only three cases have come across the border, one each in August and November 2020, and January 2021.

Those August and November cases were at a time Melbourne had a significant Covid-19 outbreak, and New South Wales also experienced a cluster in January. If a bubble was operating then, quarantine-free travel would have highly likely been shut down, which would have negated the risk.

The point being, outside known outbreaks, there aren't cases from Australia arriving in New Zealand.

3) It frees up precious managed isolation space

The harrowing tales of people unable to return home because they can't get a space in managed isolation continues to grow. It seems unfair that people from the United Kingdom can't get home to see a dying relative when 40 per cent of managed isolation space is being taken up by travellers from Australia who we know are low risk.

4) The collapse of tourism

International tourist hotspots like the West Coast, Wnaka and Queenstown are suffering with many businesses on the verge of collapse or already closed.

After Australia's Government revealed a $1.2 billion domestic tourism support package earlier this month subsidising 800,000 fares to regional tourist destinations there was growing discontent on this side of the Tasman that our Government wasn't doing enough.

With the prospect of packed flights arriving into Queenstown next month, the Government may be able to finally deliver the tourism sector a lifeline.

5) Much needed confidence

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has labelled 2021 the year of the vaccine, but arguably her most significant challenge is opening the border. Ardern's Covid-19 messaging has long been one of caution, and now she needs to convince the public our safety net (closed borders) can slowly be lifted.

Travel bubbles with Rarotonga and Niue could soon be on the cards. And there's also the prospect of a bula bubble with Fiji if it only agrees to open for Australia and New Zealand tourists.

There was talk in recent days that Australia could establish a travel bubble with Singapore before New Zealand. If this happened, it's easy to see Australia forging ahead with bubble openings without us. Now, it looks like the Tasman will once again be the first focus, which could mean a gradual phased opening of the border in tandem with Australia. Share the risk, share the rewards.

There remains many unanswered questions. For example, what happens if an outbreak closes the borders? Will travellers have to hunker down until the borders open again, or face paying for managed isolation? Will travel insurance cover Covid-19 shutdowns, or are people going to be playing travel roulette when crossing the Tasman?

Australia also wants to begin opening its border to the world from October, when its vaccination campaign is expected to be complete. Will the bubble still be operational then, if Australia opens to countries we're not yet prepared to deal with?

These are all tricky questions. But it seems a year on from our border closure, the Government is about to finally address them.

Do you think its the right time for the trans-Tasman bubble? Let us know in the comments.


Our Partner