In May, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed that a Trans-Tasman bubble with Australia could realistically be in place by September.
At the time, Ardern said she's been careful not to put a specific date on when the two countries will allow travel between each other, but her and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison want to open up the borders as soon as it's safe.
As Queensland, the Sunshine State, opened its borders to New Zealanders yesterday, Ardern said she was optimistic, but would not comment on speculation a trans-Tasman bubble could be in place by February.
It will not be in place before Christmas, just in case you were hanging onto that hope. But I don’t think many of us were.
You can understand why the government won’t put a date on a trans-Tasman bubble. Past deadlines have come and gone. Parliament has wrapped up for the year and there’s a sense no one can be bothered to hash this out now when a summer holiday is within grasp.
To be free of Covid in the community is a rare thing in this world. We have sacrificed a lot to be in this position. We are all enjoying living relatively normal lives compared to family and friends in other parts of the world, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, where the number of Covid cases continue to rise.
After months and months of constant tweaking and improving the control of our borders, quarantine procedures, and contact tracing, and along with the added benefit of genome sequencing, we’re in a good place. But we can’t stay here forever.
A friend of mine who has a large amount of family in Brisbane made the comment that she felt relieved when Queensland announced they were opening their borders to New Zealand this week.
Not that she was rushing off to book a ticket. Like most of us there isn’t the time or money to afford quarantine on the way back into New Zealand. But it was comforting to know that if she had to, she could be with family in a heartbeat if need be.
We need to be offering that comfort to families, business and the tourism industry.
It’s time the government made it a priority to work out their concerns, and open the borders between New Zealand and Covid-free areas of Australia, just like they are planning to do with The Cook Islands.
Maybe, the announcement New Zealand and the Cook Islands have agreed to open a quarantine-free travel bubble by end of March next year is a step towards securing a trans-Tasman bubble. Starting on a slightly smaller scale might allow for the government to check its systems work – we know tweaks will need to be made.
There are plenty of upsides to moving forward with this trans-Tasman bubble. Kiwis returning home from Australia take up 40 % of NZ managed isolation quarantine places. Let’s free those up for more New Zealanders to come home, and increase the space for critical international workers businesses are crying out for. Let’s allow families to reconnect, and give the tourism industry a life line.
If it doesn’t work, we can always just close the border again, but we are going to have to give it a try at some point.