Trans-Tasman bubble: Vaccination rates to delay reopening

New Zealand slammed the door on trans-Tasman flights in late July, and there’s a good reason why they’re unlikely to resume anytime soon.

The trans-Tasman travel bubble should not freely reopen when international flights resume unless New Zealand is in step with Australia’s vaccination rates, experts have warned.

New Zealand slammed the door shut on arrivals from Australia in late July, with Kiwi Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying the risk of the Delta variant of Covid-19 being brought into the country was too great.

However, the Kiwi rollout is lagging several per cent behind Australia, which has set vaccination benchmarks under the Doherty report of 70 per and 80 per cent for the easing of restrictions and the potential resumption of international flights.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce on Thursday flagged resuming services to the US, UK and parts of Asia in December and possibly the Land of the Long White Cloud.

The latest Our World in Data report, released on Tuesday, showed that 74.3 per cent of Singapore’s entire population had been fully vaccinated, while Australia was well behind at 25.3 per cent and New Zealand with just 21.8 per cent.

Australia’s Department of Health reports 32.3 per cent of people over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated while New Zealand sits at about 25 per cent.

Currently, NSW and Victoria are under Covid curfews while all of New Zealand is under strict lockdown until at least August 31.

Immunisation Coalition chair Rod Pearce said the same rules that apply for Australia easing restrictions and reopening borders should apply to New Zealand residents if travel is to resume in both directions across the Tasman.

“You would like to think so … the same rules should apply, 80 per cent must be vaccinated,” Dr Pearce said.

Singapore, UK and the US are likely to be the first destinations that reopen, with New Zealand travel dependent on their vaccination rate, said Flight Centre boss Graham Turner.

More than half the population of Singapore, the UK (62 per cent), Germany (59) and the US (51.4) are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.

Infectious diseases professor Peter Collignon said Australia and New Zealand were so closely aligned that the vaccination rates between the countries needed to be on par before travel in either direction resumed.

“The travel to and from New Zealand should reflect the immunisation rate, and currently they have lower a vaccination rate than Australia,” Mr Collignon said.

“You really need to get to 70 or even 80 per cent vaccination rates before the consequences of any spread are much less.

“New Zealand is behind our vaccination rates and the road map is 70 to 80 per cent of people vaccinated, and New Zealand is unlikely to get there before Australia.

“They will need similar levels of vaccination rates before they can open.”

Even if the federal government agrees to the trans-Tasman bubble, it’s ultimately up to each state to determine if they allow passenger arrivals.

Queensland closed its borders to New Zealand arrivals on August 18, forcing anyone arriving from New Zealand into hotel quarantine.

A Queensland Health representative said they considered a range of measures when making a decision on the easing of border restrictions with New Zealand.

“While getting as many Queenslanders vaccinated is the key to easing restrictions, including border closures, other factors such as case numbers is equally important,” they said.

“We regularly review restrictions and will ease or lift them as soon as it is safe to do so; however, the reality is outbreaks whether that’s in our southern states or overseas will not just disappear over the next few weeks.”

The office of NSW Heath Minister Brad Hazzard did not respond to questions.