Covid-19: We’re ready for trans-Tasman travel bubble – Epidemiologist Michael Baker

A top epidemiologist believes Aotearoa New Zealand is ready to open up for a trans-Tasman travel bubble.

Travellers with face masks at Auckland Airport international arrivals during the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak on 20/3/2020.

Auckland Airport has been preparing for the bubble by splitting its international terminal into two zones – one for those coming from high risk countries coming and another for low risk passengers.
Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to make an announcement on quarantine-free travel to and from Australia tomorrow.

University of Otago professor Michael Baker said he believed the government would ensure the right conditions and controls were in place before opening the border.

“Everything about managing Covid-19 is about calculated risk. I do think now we are ready to open up to Australia for quarantine-free travel.”

Michael Baker

Michael Baker
Photo: supplied / Otago University Wellington

He said the challenge for Aotearoa and Australia was managing the risk of importing the virus from red-zone countries.

“That is what we need to be focusing on at this point.”

A trans-Tasman bubble would demonstrate to other countries what can be achieved through an effective elimination strategy, he said.

He said Aotearoa, Australia and Pacific Island nations working together as countries that had successfully contained and eliminated the virus provided a good model for other nations.

“Establishing a workable, quarantine-free zone with other neighbouring countries is a great international model.”

He hoped that the travel bubble would encourage dialogue between green-zone countries on best practice, such as the best way to run managed isolation facilities and carrying out border testing.

“This process means our future is more intertwined, and it is an opportunity to harmonise approaches across all of these jurisdictions.”

He said it would get easier with the vaccine roll out, both in Aotearoa and internationally.

Meanwhile, Auckland Airport had been preparing for the bubble by splitting its international terminal into two zones – one for high risk countries coming from red-zone countries and another for low risk passengers coming from green-zone countries.

The airport’s aeronautical commercial general manager Scott Tasker welcomed a trans-Tasman bubble.

Pre-pandemic, about 40 percent of passengers transited through Australia to get to New Zealand.

But Tasker said the bubble would also help reconnect family, boost business and give tourism a shot in the arm.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran was anticipating pent up demand for travel across the ditch.

He said the company was preparing by retraining more than 300 cabin crew and bringing back airport staff.

Tourism operators in Rotorua are hoping the prime minister will announce a travel bubble with Australia tomorrow.

Destination Rotorua chief executive Andrew Wilson said many operators have a plan to ramp up their businesses, when they get a firm date.

He said many tourism operators have found it tough over the last year and Australians make up a huge percentage of the city’s international visitors.

“Pre-Covid 40 percent of our international market were Australians, so that’s a really critical one to get back on stream and I think certainly, culturally, New Zealanders and Australians share a lot of similiarities so it’ll be great to welcome them back.”