New Zealand’s heightened susceptibility to Covid-19 is undoubtedly tightening the trans-Tasman bubble.
The government makes no apologies for its security mantra as it prioritizes keeping the virus out of the country, especially the dreaded Delta variant.
New Zealand is on a charmed streak of 131 days with no community transmission, demonstrating the effectiveness of its border policy.
With the least vaccinated population in the developed world, it cannot afford an outbreak.
The ‘Team of Five Million’, dubbed ad nauseam by government leaders during the pandemic, ranks 125th in the world for vaccinated people per capita.
Committed to Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine, only 15 percent of Kiwis have had their first shot, putting it 18 percent lower than Australia and the global average.
That’s a major reason why Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins on Friday reversed a decision to allow Kiwis stranded in NSW in the latest outbreak to come home.
“If the lockdown doesn’t work and people don’t follow the rules… then that adds extra risk to us here in New Zealand,” he said.
NSW has registered 77 new local Covid-19 cases today as the state treasurer admits the lockdown will likely be extended and more government support will be needed.
One person has also died – the first Covid-19 death from the current outbreak.
NSW Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said that of the 77 new cases in the 24 hours to 8 p.m. yesterday, only 32 had been isolated during their entire contagious period.
The person who died was a southwestern Sydney woman in her 90s. She was in close contact with a locally acquired case and was considered virus positive yesterday.
She is the first person to die since the Bondi cluster emerged on June 16 and the 57th person in NSW to die since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.
The woman is also the first person to contract and die locally from Covid-19 in Australia in 2021.
“More than 50 of the 77 (cases) are close relatives, close relatives of those who are infected,” Berejiklian told reporters.
“Unfortunately, if you do get Covid, those who are most affected are those closest to you, and tragically we have seen an elderly person die and I want to extend my deepest condolences to their family and loved ones.”
There are now 15 Covid-19 patients in NSW in intensive care, five of whom are on a ventilator.
Bubble closures are becoming more regular
Last month, the government acted outside its public plan and closed the entire bubble for a week, fearing widespread cases of the gold mining cluster in the Northern Territory.
“Recent outbreaks and lockdowns across the Tasman, along with recent fears in Wellington, have highlighted the risks,” Ardern said.
“We must remain vigilant.”
That vigilance has resulted in the bubble being partially closed for two of its first three months, including a one-month shutdown to Victoria and a full-week shutdown.
The awkward responses are devoid of nuance, meaning residents of Tweed Heads will not be able to travel when NSW in Sydney is suspended, despite their distance.
Likewise, when business in Brisbane closes the Queensland bubble, New Zealand shows little interest in allowing flights from Townsville or Cairns.to cases
New Zealand has now tightened the screws further and mandated a costly pre-departure test (PDT) for all Australian visitors, whether they leave a place with suitcases or not.
“Most people should be able to get a test for a few hundred dollars,” Hipkins said.
“It’s just one of the realities of the way the world is right now.”
Even Tourism Secretary Stuart Nash would not comment on the fight for his hard-hit operators, though the additional cost would delay visitors.
“I make no apologies. The safety of New Zealanders is by far the government’s main objective,” he told AAP.
“I don’t think you’ll get any opposition from Kiwis anywhere.”
Chris Roberts, chief executive of Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA), hopes they can take a more nuanced stance.
“PDT is one of the many tools the government has… it should be used when it’s needed, but we hope it doesn’t become a permanent feature,” he said.
“Travel is getting more and more complicated and expensive, and for a lot of people who want to come here, it might just be too difficult.”
The trans-Tasman bubble resumed in time for a week of Victorian school holidays, with planes coming into Queenstown this week during the ski season.
Unfortunately for other tourism organizations hoping for a trans-Tasman windfall, another tax bill is on the way.
Citing cabinet documents obtained under disclosure laws, the TIA claims the government plans to increase border fees from $20 to $63 ($A59) in December.
“It’s too early, has too much of an impact on the traveler and will slow the recovery for thousands of tourist businesses,” Roberts said.
Nash – who hopes to use Covid-19 as a reset for New Zealand’s tourism industry, focusing on valuable visitors – did not deny the tax bill was coming.
The Napier MP said “a lot of consultation is still to take place” on the final amount, a harbinger of “fairly substantial change”.
Barely a Bubble: Trans-Tasman Travel Week
April 19 – Six months after Australia started allowing quarantine-free travel from New Zealand, New Zealand is going back and forth, creating the trans-Tasman bubble.
April 23 – Bubble closes until WA, lasts five days.
May 7 – Bubble closes at NSW, lasts three days.
May 25 – Bubble closes at Victoria, lasts 28 days with stranded Kiwis allowed to go home after 14 days.
June 23 – Lumpy closes at NSW. The suspension will last until at least July 16.
June 29 – Bubble closes for all states.
July 5 – Bubble reopens to Victoria, Tasmania, SA, ACT, lasts seven days.
10th of July – Bubble reopens to WA, NT, lasts 12 days with stranded Kiwis allowed home from Queensland.