Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives with the Director General of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield for yesterday's post Cabinet press conference

Air New Zealand’s decision to cancel its December flights to and from Australia has been a probability for several weeks.

POLITIK was told by an Air New Zealand source two weeks ago that it was likely the flights would be cancelled.

“I imagine those December flights will soon be cancelled as there is no chance of the bubble opening in December as far as I can see,” the source said in an email on November 8.

The Government has been resolute in its determination not to open the international border until “the first quarter next year.”

Even then, it is not clear that it will restore the trans-Tasman bubble.

However, Air New Zealand’s website is showing three Auckland-Sydney flights day through January.

The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, yesterday repeated the Government’s caution about ending Managed Isolation and Quarantine for international arrivals.

“We fully appreciate the importance of us reconnecting safely,” she said.

“We are quite focused on making sure that as we do that, the changes we make stick.

“We don’t want the uncertainty for New Zealanders, for businesses and for airlines of changing settings.

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“So that does mean that we will stick through our changes very carefully and based on the very strong advice of those experts who have supported every step of our Covid response.

“I have observed that you’ve seen overseas there’s been openings and then the reimposition of requirements.

“And I think that does make it very difficult for operators, for travellers and for Kiwis.

“We will be careful and deliberate.”

The Government’s cautious attitude to the international border contrasts with its more liberal approach to domestic borders.

Announcing that the whole country would move into the new traffic light system from 11.59 on December 2, she said that would mean the end of borders except for the one around Auckland.

But once that goes, and she has previously said that is likely on January 17, then that will be it for internal borders.

“Regional travel restrictions now will not be the norm,” she said.

“Hard borders will not be the norm.

“There may be occasions where there are localised lockdowns, where there may be some limitation on movements, but they will not be the norm.”

Ardern’s caution on the international border also contrasts with Australia, which yesterday announced that it would admit foreign University students along with a wide range of other visa holders from December 1.

The visa holders will be able to return to Australia without applying for a travel exemption.

They will need to be double vaccinated with an Australian-approved vaccine and have a negative PCR test result within three days of departing. 

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison,  also announced new travel bubbles with Japan and South Korea. The decisions follow the opening of a two-way travel bubble with Singapore on Sunday, allowing students, families and migrants to return to Sydney and Melbourne. Returning visa holders must be double vaccinated and have proof of a negative COVID-19 test before travelling.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said there were more than 130,000 international students with visas waiting to return to Australia.

The first of a number of special flights, organised by New South Wales and ACT universities, arrives in Sydney on December 6.

Jackson said returning students had to adhere to state and territory quarantine rules, “but we are seeing an increasing trend towards no quarantine for fully vaccinated students.”

“The value of international students to Australia is more than just the impact they have on the economy and employment, through their $3.1 billion annual economic contributions and support for 250,000 jobs is important,” Jackson said.

“These students are the future corporate and political leaders of our nearest trading partners. They make an enormous contribution to Australia’s influence in the world.”

But because of the New Zealand Government’s caution over opening the international border, there is no word yet on when the international students might return to New Zealand universities.

In 2017, 125,392 international students studied in New Zealand, making international education New Zealand’s fourth-largest export earner valued at $5.1 billion.

But the Prime Minister’s caution could extend into next year.

Asked yesterday at her press conference whether she could make changes now or policy that would last given what we were seeing in Europe now with a massive Covid resurgence as winter set in.

“It’s a really good point,” she said.

“We are thinking about winter, and we are looking at Europe and what’s happening there, and this is where I would point to the importance of the Covid protection framework.

“It doesn’t say here’s a date where all bets are off, and we go back to some kind of normal.

It accepts that Covid is around; it’s showing that it is still very problematic in some parts of the world.

“We want a framework that actually can see us through that, that people will know that actually if we do have outbreaks that are proving problematic and difficult, they know what will happen.

“So we’ve tried to think ahead.

“We’ve tried to think about seasons actually giving other countries a tough time and how we can prepare for that because one of the benefits we have as a country is that the rest of the world is a season ahead, and it allows us to plan for that.”

Her approach to managing Covid now is clearly based on  what she calls the hard truth: “Delta is here now, and it is not going away.”