Opening the border: the big questions ahead for Jacinda Ardern

Opening the border: the big questions ahead for Jacinda Ardern

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Chris McKeen

Trans-Tasman bubble opens as hundreds fly from Auckland to New South Wales.

ANALYSIS: Closing the borders was one of the most significant decisions Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had to make in her last term.

Now, with another three years in office, navigating the uncharted waters of re-opening the country will be even trickier.

Here are some of the big questions she’ll face and how they could unfold.

READ MORE:
* Trans-Tasman bubble: Kiwis await clarification from Australia on interstate travel rules
* Covid-19: Unexpected NZ arrivals inject new irritation into Australian politics
* Australian states scramble for airline passenger lists to avoid more surprise trans-Tasman bubble travellers

A two-way travel bubble with all of Australia would be the biggest win.

Dean Lewins/AAP

A two-way travel bubble with all of Australia would be the biggest win.

Is a travel bubble with Australia possible?

With dark economic clouds forecast next year, opening the border with Australia would be a multi-billion dollar boost to our economy.

A two-way travel bubble with all of Australia would be the biggest win, but that continues to look elusive; especially considering the tentacles of Victoria’s devastating outbreak could last months, and community cases continue to pop up in New South Wales.

If a travel bubble were to happen, the crucial question is…

Will Jacinda Ardern wait until herd immunity has been achieved with inoculation before fully opening the borders, or rely on incoming tourists having an immunity passport?

Mark Baker/AP

Will Jacinda Ardern wait until herd immunity has been achieved with inoculation before fully opening the borders, or rely on incoming tourists having an immunity passport?

Will we sign up to Australia’s hotspot approach?

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is pushing for a relaxation of interstate travel rules, in favour of a ‘hot spot approach’. Under the plan, travel would be allowed, unless a city or region is considered a ‘hot spot’.

Discussions in Australia have stagnated because there hasn’t been agreement over the definition of a hot spot. However, if there is consensus, it’ll be a crucial moment for Ardern. Are we going to agree to the hot spot approach, and open up travel with Australia or…

Should New Zealand go state by state and start with Western Australia?

Western Australia has had more success than New Zealand in combating Covid-19; it’s gone nearly 200 days without community transmission.

The state appears in favour of only opening travel if a zone has gone 28 days without community transmission; Ardern has previously advocated a similar approach. This means if a state by state bubble is opened up, Western Australia could be the first off the rank. But wait…

The Cook Islands bubble could be ready by end of 2020.

Chris Skelton/Stuff

The Cook Islands bubble could be ready by end of 2020.

What about the Cook Islands?

Ardern hinted on the campaign that a travel bubble with the Cook Islands could be in place before the end of the year.

Yes, it provides Kiwis with a holiday option, but tourist operators in New Zealand would be wincing. Every time a plane takes off to the Cook Islands, hundreds of thousands of tourist dollars that could be spent domestically would fly away.

So that begs a question…

Cook Islands or Australia first?

We’re likely to introduce one travel bubble first, to trial the system, then look at opening another once that’s proved successful. So, does Ardern wait for the more lucrative option and hold out for an Australian state, or does she get the Cook Islands underway and risk upsetting tourism operators here?

Will any countries in Asia be safe?

Aside from Australia, and a few countries in the Pacific, Ardern will need to examine whether any other quarantine-free bubbles can be established before a vaccine arrives.

The leading contender in Asia is Taiwan, with only 535 Covid-19 cases in a population of more than 23 million.

But technology is likely to prove the best chance of a breakthrough…

Theresa Zoller, left, gets a rapid Covid-19 test before a United Airlines flight to Hawaii at San Francisco International Airport.

Jeff Chiu/AP

Theresa Zoller, left, gets a rapid Covid-19 test before a United Airlines flight to Hawaii at San Francisco International Airport.

How could rapid testing be used?

Accurate rapid testing is the best chance of more travel bubbles opening up.

Depending on its accuracy, these tests could be used daily by travellers from low-risk countries for their first 14 days in New Zealand. The results could potentially be self-reported.

On top of this, another significant question is whether you are immune after having had Covid-19.

If so, it could provide a breakthrough for inbound travel to New Zealand. Oxford University, among many others, is developing a ‘reliable’ antigen (immunity) test, which could deliver results in five minutes.

That could mean, for example, an American who had the virus and had a proven immunity response may be able to travel to New Zealand without the risk of importing the virus.

At this stage, however, the World Health Organisation says: “There is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity.” But this will be watched closely.

Will Kiwis require a Covid-19 immunity passport?

When a vaccine arrives, which could be in 2021, it’s highly likely you’ll need to prove inoculation before international travel. That may mean anti-vaxxers could find it difficult to travel, potentially for years.

Will Ardern wait until herd immunity has been achieved with inoculation before fully opening the borders, or rely on incoming tourists having an immunity passport? That will largely depend on the reliability of the vaccine.

These are just a few of the issues the prime minister will face in the next three years, and Ardern has a massive balancing act. Closed borders keep Covid-19 out, but it also keeps billions of dollars worth of much needed stimulus-locked out of the country.

As the economy worsens, these difficult questions will need answers.

What do you think? What should New Zealand’s strategy to the border be over Jacinda Ardern’s term? Let us know in the comments below.

Stuff

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