Trans-Tasman travel bubble still at least three weeks away

Author
Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 17 Mar 2021, 9:47PM
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

Trans-Tasman travel bubble still at least three weeks away

Author
Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 17 Mar 2021, 9:47PM

A trans-Tasman travel bubble is still at least three weeks away, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has indicated.

Hipkins was grilled about the earliest possible start date for the bubble by National MP Chris Bishop today, who asked whether a date was discussed this morning at a Cabinet committee meeting.

Hipkins said Cabinet committee discussions were confidential, but added that airlines and airports would need at least three weeks' time to put practices in place so a bubble could operate safely.

Only one visitor from Australia so far this year tested positive for Covid-19 while in managed isolation, and health experts have described a trans-Tasman bubble as very low risk.

The National Party has been calling for a bubble to open, and launched a petition yesterday that had collected 30,000 signatories as of this afternoon.

The Government is looking at a unilateral decision-making framework for the bubble, rather than a joint framework with Australia, and Hipkins said many issues remain unresolved.

Those include when the bubble should be suspended, what happens to stranded Kiwis if it is suspended, the testing requirements in both countries, the exit visa requirements for Australians coming here, and the contact tracing compatibility of both countries' systems.

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in the community today, and there are three in MIQ for arrivals from Iran, Singapore and the USA.

There were 6047 tests processed yesterday, and the seven-day rolling average of new cases detected at the border is three.

Ministry of Health graph for vaccination roll-out. Photo / SuppliedMinistry of Health graph for vaccination roll-out. Photo / Supplied

Hipkins released more details of the vaccination programme today, with about 250,000 doses per week expected to be given in the last half of the year - an average of more than 35,000 doses per day.

More than 1100 people had completed Covid-19 vaccination training, he said, and more than 5000 people had registered an interest in being trained.

About 2000 to 3000 additional workers beyond the normal health workforce will be needed to cope with the roll-out in the last quarter of the year, he said.

Nikki Turner, the director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, said the logistics of the rollout was a huge challenge, including moves to ensure people felt it was safe.

She told the health select committee yesterday that concern about the vaccine was not as widespread as many believed – and said the term "vaccine hesitancy" was not very useful, saying different people needed different information to make up their minds.

She did not want to set a target for herd immunity – rather, New Zealand should be striving for the highest level possible.

"There is unlikely to be a magic number."

The Government estimates that about 20 per cent of people may be hesitant about getting vaccinated, while about 5 per cent will oppose it.

A vaccination campaign kicked off last weekend, and Hipkins said it would be ramped up towards July when more doses are expected to arrive and the general population will start to get vaccinated.

So far nearly 27,000 frontline workers have had a dose of Pfizer vaccine, including about 4000 MIQ workers.

About 10 to 20 workers had refused, Hipkins said. Many of them were hesitant rather than opposed, he said, adding that misinformation was "certainly ramping up" and everyone had a role to play to counter it.

Celebrities and role models, including maybe some All Blacks, are expected to be shoulder-tapped to be part of a campaign to encourage uptake.