'Dan­ger­ous to open bor­ders'

Otago Daily Times - - FRONT PAGE - JO MOIR

WELLING­TON: The busi­ness com­mu­nity has pinned its hopes on the New Zealand bor­der re­open­ing as soon as pos­si­ble and says the Gov­ern­ment has failed to hold up its end of the deal.

Busi­ness lead­ers say bil­lions of dol­lars of op­por­tu­ni­ties are on hold while the Gov­ern­ment and the De­fence Force fixes mis­takes most New Zealan­ders thought were be­ing man­aged.

The Gov­ern­ment is try­ing to plug test­ing and quar­an­tine gaps, while at the same time the Op­po­si­tion ramps up pres­sure for the bor­der to open.

But Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern said even con­sid­er­ing open­ing the bor­der right now was reck­less.

‘‘Any sug­ges­tion of bor­ders open­ing at this point frankly is dan­ger­ous and I don’t think we should put New Zealand in that po­si­tion,’’ she said.

She was re­spond­ing to na­tional leader Todd Muller who told the Welling­ton Cham­ber of Com­merce yes­ter­day it ap­peared New Zealand would stay closed un­til other coun­tries had re­duced their Covid pres­ence to sim­i­lar lev­els.

‘‘The idea that we can sit here at the bot­tom of the world with 20% of our ex­ports off the ta­ble in terms of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents and tourism and es­sen­tially just trade amongst our­selves for the fore­see­able fu­ture, locked up to the rest of the world and wait­ing for a vac­cine, I think is un­ten­able as a long­term strat­egy,’’ he said.

He wanted to know what was re­quired for New Zealand to en­ter into travel bub­bles with other coun­tries, such as Aus­tralia and the Pa­cific.

Ms Ardern said open­ing up more to Aus­tralia and the Pa­cific was be­ing con­sid­ered, but any­one push­ing for

more open bor­ders now was ir­re­spon­si­ble.

She said open­ing the bor­der with coun­tries in the medium term de­pended on many fac­tors, in­clud­ing the turn­around time for tests, how ram­pant Covid­19 is, the abil­ity to treat a large num­ber of peo­ple and whether a vac­cine is avail­able.

Al­most four mil­lion in­ter­na­tional tourists typ­i­cally cross New Zealand shores each year and Busi­nessNZ chief ex­ec­u­tive Kirk Hope said liveli­hoods de­pend on that bor­der open­ing again.

But for now, the Gov­ern­ment was not even re­sum­ing com­pas­sion­ate ex­emp­tions, let alone al­low­ing in­ter­na­tional visi­tors in, be­cause there was not enough con­fi­dence in quar­an­tine and man­aged iso­la­tion fa­cil­i­ties, he said.

‘‘Un­til we can guar­an­tee that, I

think we have to rightly say the risk is too high.

‘‘Now, that’s dis­ap­point­ing, be­cause those things are all com­pletely man­age­able,’’ he said.

Mr Hope said the bor­der re­open­ing needed to be a pri­or­ity.

‘‘We do need to get the bor­der in be­cause the eco­nomic im­pact of be­ing shut is so sig­nif­i­cant.’’

In the case of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, they could be ar­riv­ing now.

‘‘Our uni­ver­si­ties could prop­erly quar­an­tine peo­ple in New Zealand and we could get that part of our in­ter­na­tional econ­omy go­ing again.

‘‘In­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion con­trib­utes a sig­nif­i­cant amount of money, some $5 bil­lion a year,’’ he said. — RNZ

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