My best mate is trying to plan a wedding.
He lives in the Middle East and he wants to get married in Barcelona in October. It’s where he and his wife-to-be first met, it’s one of the World’s great cities, it’s neutral territory for both of them, and trust me when I say I really, really want to go and party with them in Barcelona.
But what would that involve?
Well, as of this week, Spain is letting in New Zealanders. So, actually, are lots of countries. They don’t require government quarantining or even isolation for Kiwis. Because New Zealand has done so well at eliminating covid-19 up until this point, we’re assumed to arrive with a clean bill of health. Someone checks your temperature, stamps your passport, and ninety minutes later you’re eating papas bravas off The Rambla.
Of course, getting to Europe and getting back is a whole lot easier said than done. And the arrangements aren’t reciprocal. We have very tight restrictions on who’s allowed back in the Aotearoa, and everyone arriving here goes into government-mandated 14-day quarantine.
But at what point do we lift it? At what point do we completely throw open the doors? Sure, it’s fine to plan bubbles and relaxed travel relationships with other countries that are on top of Covid-19. But America is recording tens of thousands of new cases a day. It doesn’t have a hope of achieving our government’s pre-requisite requirements for a bubble. Ever.
Some of our other big trading partners in Europe and Asia are in a similar boat. They don’t have a chance of being on top of things until herd immunity is achieved or the whole World gets jabbed.
Are we waiting for a vaccine, then, to immunise all New Zealanders, before we totally open up? Is that where we’ll have to be before we accept any Americans, or any Brits, without first making them sit through two weeks of quarantine?
And what if a vaccine doesn’t come about? It’s no guaranteed silver bullet. How long do we wait until we just say... this is no longer feasible?
Helen Clark, Rob Fyfe, and Sir Peter Gluckman published a really interesting paper for Auckland University pushing for more conversation clarity on New Zealand’s exit strategy. It made simple, sober, reasonable points.
To be clear: No one sensible is suggesting we throw open our borders now. No one sensible is suggesting we rush this process. But we do need a plan. It should cover off timelines and different scenarios: What we’ll do if we can access a vaccine and what we’ll do if, gulp, we can’t.
I’m realistic about the wedding in Barcelona. So is my mate. October’s coming about fast.
But our focus shouldn’t just be on the next three months. It should be on the next 18 months. The next few years.
Compared to much of the World, New Zealand’s has achieved incredible success in controling coronavirus. But it’s oddly a blessing and a bit of a curse. Shutting down was the easy part... reopening is much more complex. We need clarity and vision. We need a plan.