The bubble won’t fix everything
Monday marks an important turning point in New Zealand’s pandemic story. And not just ours, but also that of Australia.
The trans-tasman bubble officially begins at 11.59pm on Sunday night, and allows for quarantine-free travel between the two countries.
The bubble was talked about and agitated for over a period of months before Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern finally revealed the start date. Will it fulfil the hopes and dreams of thosewho called for it?
That seems unlikely. The bubble will probably not be a silver bullet for a local tourism industry that has been deprived of international visitors. Accommodation Association chief executive Julie White and Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood both told Newshub this week that, after an initial flurry of bookings, Australians are taking a wait and see approach.
Rather than a stampede of Aussies, things might be quieter than some hope until the ski season in July. Caution is understandable; travellers on both sides of the ditch will feel a little nervous. The bubble is possibly the greatest test of our systems since the pandemic began.
There is the genuine fear that tourists risk being stranded if quarantines are suddenly reintroduced. The Government warns of a ‘‘flyer beware’’ situation.
As Stuff reported, the bubble means the end of ‘‘red flights’’ between the two countries, replaced by ‘‘green’’, or quarantine-free, flights. This unintended consequence of the bubble essentially blocks returning New Zealanders from further afield passing throughaustralia.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s claim that his country would see 1000 cases of Covid-19 per week once international borders reopen may also frighten potential travellers, especially as the comment appeared days before the bubble starts.
And as we have learnt thisweek, thanks to select committee revelations, our own border procedures are far from airtight. A positive border worker had not been tested since November.
Such a system depends on trust and confidence. Risks have to be realistic, and we have to be certain that thosemanaging the system are fully across all potential problems. Travellers going in both directions will be wary of such pitfalls.
A form of realism has set in since the first giddy days after the announcement. Australian travel writer Ben Groundwater has warned his readers to steer clear of Auckland, as Covid-19 outbreaks are more likely in the north.
More usefully for Kiwis, he advises that Sydney is the best Australian city to fly in and out of, as New South Wales is less likely to close its borders than Queensland or Victoria. He imagines a scenario in whichavictorian touristmight be trapped INNSW – back in their own country, at least, but not their state.
No doubt there are fishhooks in the system. But we should not lose sight of why the bubble has opened, and what it means. Beyond the nearconstant concern with the health of our tourism industry, we should pay attention to the stories that have been cruelly interrupted by the pandemic. How many births, deaths and marriages have been missed?
At a symbolic level, we could not stay isolated from the world any longer. This tentative opening of the borders shows that life can andwill return to normal, albeit more slowly than some might hope.