Manawatu Standard

Travel bubble focus of urgent Cabinet meeting

- Henry Cooke

The Government held an urgent Cabinet meeting to discuss the trans-tasman bubble yesterday.

The news comes as the Covid19 Delta variant continues to play havoc across Australia, with about half of the population in some form of lockdown and 150 new community cases reported in the last 24 hours.

Stuff understand­s a complete pause on the bubble is a possible outcome.

The Prime Minister’s Office said the meeting had been planned for some days and an update would be provided on any decisions made today.

Cabinet usually only meets on Mondays – and not in the middle of recess weeks.

‘‘Cabinet is meeting to check in on the arrangemen­ts with Australia, given the situation there,’’ the Prime Minister’s Office said.

‘‘This has been planned for several days and we will give an update on this discussion on Friday.’’

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is on leave this week, will be chairing the meeting as usual. It will be a virtual meeting as many ministers are on leave around the country.

The Government has already paused travel with New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. New Zealand has operated a quarantine-free trans-tasman bubble with Australia for months, but parts of it have been shut for more than half of the time as small community outbreaks have popped up in Australia.

Just under 2500 Kiwis are currently registered as being in Australia on Safetravel, but as an optin service that number is likely to be far below the actual number of travellers.

University of Otago epidemiolo­gist Michael Baker, who is on the Government’s expert advisory panel, said the

Government may opt to close to much of Australia for quite a long while.

Baker said the outbreak in Sydney could take over a month to die down and the other high population states on the east coast of Australia were also a risk. ‘‘I can see that potentiall­y suspending travel from that area for a long while might be required,’’ Baker said.

‘‘You’ve seen the potential difficulty with those large highly populated states on the east coast that have a lot of travel.’’

The biggest concern in Australia is New South Wales. Unless New South Wales can bring this outbreak under control quite quickly, the future scenarios could be quite grim for Australia.’’

Baker said New Zealand’s own experience with attempting to lock down parts of the country showed how hard it was to make sure internal borders weren’t porous.

National’s Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop said National did not have access to the same informatio­n the Government did, but generally agreed with the current number of pauses.

He said both National and the Government had not anticipate­d the amount of disruption the bubble would eventually come under when it had was launched.

‘‘That’s the nature of Covid and the nature in particular of the Delta variant.’’

‘‘I can see that potentiall­y suspending travel from that area for a long while might be required.’’

Michael Baker University of Otago epidemiolo­gist

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