New Zealanders may as well leave for a vacation in Australia now.
POLITIK understands that earlier leaked proposals to start the trans-Tasman bubble after the school holidays in early May are now likely to be brought forward.
So if travellers arrive in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide or Brisbane, they won’t have to quarantine and with any luck, the bubble will be up and running sometime between April 6 and 16; enough time for a three or four-week break.
Nevertheless, the Prime Minister was taking flak last night for her announcement yesterday that she would not be ready to announce the bubble dates until April 6.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa Chief Executive Chris Roberts said the industry was desperately keen to be given a date yesterday.
He remained hopeful that the bubble could be operating before the end of April.
New Zealanders were being let down by a Government that talked a lot about delivering a trans-Tasman bubble but kept falling short, said Opposition Leader Judith Collins.
However, POLITIK believes that the Government has polling data that shows that a substantial number of New Zealanders are opposed to opening a bubble with anyone.
Hence what appears to be ultra-caution on its part.
It was clear that right through her media conference yesterday, the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, was addressing those who were sceptical about the bubble.
“We also know that many New Zealanders are nervous; they don’t want to put everything we’ve fought so hard for at risk, and they want us to proceed with the same vein in the same vein as our overall Covid response, and that is with caution,” she said in her opening statement to the media conference.
Thus also her reassurance that if there was an outbreak identified in Australia and the source was unknown, “it is very likely that you would see us close down travel for a period of time until we can be confident of what is occurring.”
But that poses its own problems with the possibility that thousands of Australians could be stuck in New Zealand with thousands of New Zealanders stuck in Australia.
“This is one of the reasons why cabinet is working through in a lot of detail the complexity around an arrangement like this,” she said.
“As you will have already seen from Australia, often there is very little notice when travel ceases, and we will have to operate on the same basis if we want to maintain a situation where New Zealand does not have it (Covid) in the country.”
If there were to be an outbreak in either country, then contact tracing would be critical.
That would mean Australian tourists in New Zealand would need to download the New Zealand contact tracing app and use it; the same would apply to New Zealanders in Australia.
And even then, we may not know enough about the tourist to track them down.
“We’ve got that extra complexity of someone who’s travelling and from overseas, where our finding services may not be as good, of course, because we don’t have as much information about someone who is a noncitizen or resident,” Ardern said.
“What can we do to enhance our ability to make sure that we can contact people successfully?
“So that’s some of the things we’re working through.”
Essentially what the Government has done is allow New Zealand to become a de facto state of Australia for the purposes of the bubble.
That means that we, for the meantime, share an external border with Australia.
That poses its own challenges.
What if Australia were to unilaterally open up to a third country; as it has indicated, it wants to do with Singapore, but what if it went further and opened to a European country where Covid was less under control.
“Then we would, of course, review our settings,” said Ardern.
“So look at whether or not it changed up the risk profile at all.
“And that was another thing that we were working through country by country when we were working at that level then we were talking about how would we deal with third-country entry into a bubble, but will now have to just deal with that separately as it arises.”
One possible spinoff from the bubble would be the freeing up of Managed isolation and Quarantine spaces.
There have been ongoing talks about whether these should go to horticultural or other workers or students.
“What we’re really having to build in our thinking is to what extent would that capacity be required for emergency situations and managing the bubble or not?” she said.
“And so those are some of the things cabinet’s working through.
“What I expect is that at the time that we make announcements around the trans-Tasman bubble, we will also give an indication of how we expect MIQ capacity to be used.”
Ardern was being criticised last night for making an announcement about making an announcement but what may have happened is that leaks last week that a bubble was on its way forced the Government to say something yesterday; that all along, it had been planning the announcement for April 6.
But the expectation that the bubble is imminent is now so baked in that any failure to implement it would be politically disastrous.