Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Bubble rising

Yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced
 that quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia will begin on Monday, April 19. She said that there are protocols and systems in place to make this possible, but nothing can be guaranteed, so it remains “flyer beware”.

The entire thing is based on the fact that both New Zealand and Australia are generally Covid-free. It’s “generally” because both countries have had outbreaks connected with arrivals from overseas. That’s why it’s “flyer beware”, because if an outbreak happens flights could be paused or suspended.

If there’s a limited, short-term lockdown because of a case from an unknown source, flights may be suspended for 72 hours. But if there’s a longer lockdown and multiple cases from unknown sources, flights could be suspended for a longer time.

If flights are suspended—long or short term—travellers to New Zealand may face additional requirements, including: Getting a pre-departure test before flying, self-isolating and getting a Covid-19 test, or if the person is flying from a state where travel has been paused, they may go into managed isolation when they arrive in New Zealand. This is especially important for New Zealand citizens and permanent residents who may have been stuck in Australia due to an outbreak suspending flights.

On the plus side (for travellers), this is being organised on a state-by-state basis, so if an outbreak happens in, say, Queensland, a traveller would still be able to fly from Melbourne. Theoretically. Flyer beware.

All passengers on trans-Tasman flights will be required to wear masks (which is kind of a big deal on what can be a four-hour (or longer) flight), and they won’t be allowed to board if they show cold or flu symptoms. New Zealand will also conduct random temperature checks on people arriving in New Zealand.

All passengers flying between the two countries will travel though a “green zone”, in which trans-Tasman passengers will be kept physically separated from any other flyers (like, for example, NZ citizens and permanent residents flying back to NZ from other countries outside Australia). The air crews on those “green zone” flights will also not have worked on flights from potentially risky countries before a trans-Tasman flight.

The health and Covid-19 authorities in the Australian states and New Zealand will work to share information to minimise sudden, surprise changes in the ability to fly quarantine-free, and to ensure they have systems and protocols that remain effective at preventing spread of the virus.

As I said recently, I would’ve preferred that the two countries waited until more of their people were vaccinated. However, I also noted:
If any two countries are in a position to make a quarantine-free travel bubble work, it’s New Zealand and Australia. It’s not without risk, but, then, nothing in life is. Maybe the benefits will far outweigh the risks. I suppose we’ll find out relatively soon.
I think that’s the bottom line. I also think that the risk is relatively acceptable. Both countries—and especially New Zealand—need the money foreign tourists spend, and a lot of very ordinary people need that to be employed. That means this isn’t just about corporations pushing their demands: It will help even low-wage workers. It will also allow reunions of friends and family who haven’t seen each other in more than a year, which is a good thing by itself.

There’s also the chance that this will be a disaster, leading to an actual second wave in both countries. But this is highly unlikely. If anything, it’s more that a case or two might pop up and remain under control.

If this works, it could provide a blueprint that other countries may be able to follow to at least partially re-open their borders. Not everyone thinks this is worth the risk, and I, too, have worries about it. But the alternative is to remain closed indefinitely, and that may cause other kinds of harm.

Risk? Yes, Acceptable? Kind of.

The graphic above is part of a handout at the Prime Minister’s press conference. The full PDF is available from the link to the announcement.


Roger Owen Green said...

I do get it.
Lockdowns are hard. Vaguely off-topic, I went out to eat for the 1st time in a YEAR yesterday. Outdoor venue with 3 people I've known since 1958 and a guy I've only known about half as long.

Arthur Schenck said...

"…only about half as long". Sheesh! Mind you, I've known Jason longer than that…