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Bubble bubble toil and trouble

Written By: - Date published: 8:43 am, April 6th, 2021 - 42 comments
Categories: australian politics, chris hipkins, covid-19, health, Judith Collins - Tags:

An announcement on the Trans Tasman bubble is expected this afternoon.

From Radio New Zealand:

The government will today announce when the country will begin a long anticipated trans-Tasman bubble with Australia.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will make the announcement this afternoon, after meeting with Cabinet.

Ardern said the government had carefully worked through the framework of a trans-Tasman bubble, but she warned travelling would not be without risk.

“We will have a number of precautions in place ready to go if in the event we need to alter people’s travel, but anyone who is looking to book to travel to Australia will just need to factor in plans if there is something that happens on either side of the ditch,” she said.

The tourism industry is keen.  Again from Radio New Zealand:

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts was hopeful for a two-way bubble this month, but in the meantime said businesses needed more clarity on what would happen if there were outbreaks.

“How we look after our guests who are in the country in those circumstances and what messaging are we giving to people who want to come to New Zealand.

“If we have all that information provided by the government, then the industry will be raring to go,” he said.

He should be asking these questions of the Australian Government and of the six Australian states.  They will control who comes here and how and when they return.

And Judith Collins is having an especially spiteful morning.

National Party leader Judith Collins didn’t want to wait any longer and said she’d be disappointed if a bubble wasn’t in place this week.

“I’m sure the Australians can do it for six months, we should be able to do it,” she said.

Collins said the wait had been traumatic for many New Zealanders who have been unable to see family.

But the issues are complex and for the Tourism Industry I don’t think that the bubble will be the panacea that some operators think it is.

Sure there will be more Australians visiting.  But less Kiwis who will instead take the chance to head across the ditch rather than holiday here.  And who is going to afford the travel insurance, presuming that it is available.

And I am not sure that Australia has Covid completely under control.  Their systems appear to be inferior to ours as indicated by the fairly regular community outbreaks that are occurring.

Elsewhere throughout the world the virus is again surging.  The United Kingdom, thanks to a fairly strict lockdown and mass vaccination, have reduced daily new infection rates from 60,000 to 7,000.  But in other parts of Europe numbers are increasing and the UK variant of the virus, which is more transmittable, is becoming the dominant variant.  And there are concerns that the South African variant may be resistant to the current vaccines.

And the unholy scrap for vaccines continue.  National had criticised the Government for being cautious with its announcements concerning the roll out of vaccines and pointed to Australia where the roll out had been publicised with some detail.  But Australia’s roll out appears to be less than optimal.

From Shannan Molloy at the ABC:

Yesterday, four million Americans received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as the country continues to rapidly accelerate its rollout.

By comparison, that’s the same number of Australians who were meant to have gotten a jab by the end of March … a target that the Government fell short of by 3.4 million people.

Just two per cent of Australians have received a jab so far, compared to 30 per cent of the US population and 46 per cent of people in the UK.

A number of frontline health workers, hotel quarantine workers and vulnerable aged care residents remain unvaccinated, despite the significant risks.

Supply from overseas has dwindled, distribution of what the country does hold has been marred by issues, communication between authorities and the GPs tasked with administering jabs is chaotic, and fury is growing, experts say.

The basic problem is that Morrison overpromised, did not do the preparation work to make sure that the distribution and vaccination networks were in place and organised, and when Europe choked off Australia’s supply the program faltered.  However Europe’s actions are not an excuse.  The report is that a shipment of 250,000 vaccines was blocked but this is only a small part of the short fall.  There is a laboratory pumping out Astra Zeneca vaccines and the crisis is in large part self inflicted.

A bubble was nearly in place in February but Australia changed its mind at the last minute and negotiations continued.  Katie Scotcher from Radio New Zealand reported this in March this year:

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has, however, clarified that officials were close to reaching an agreement at the start of February.

In response to a written question from National MP Chris Bishop, Hipkins said the two-way quarantine travel could start when “the respective health authorities have determined that the rate of Covid-19 transmission and associated public health risk is acceptably low in both countries”.

He also revealed New Zealand and Australian officials had discussed the draft arrangement text on 4 February but Australia changed its mind, deciding it wanted to be able to make independent decisions.

“We were relatively comfortable with where things were heading, we were sort of on track. Since then Australia’s position shifted so we’ve had to recalibrate,” Hipkins said.

“Look, these things happen.”

The independent approach Australia wants to take will be more challenging for the government to manage and as Hipkins explained during Question Time, there is a lot for officials to work through.

“Issues that we’re working through include understanding the circumstances that could lead to a suspension of green zone travel on either side of the Tasman; what we would do with those whose travel is disrupted by the suspension of a green zone; testing requirements that may be put in place on either side; Australia’s current exit visa restriction that prevents Australians travelling to New Zealand without a visa; the state-by-state differences in decision making in Australia; decision making around expansion to other countries outside of the safe travel zone and who would make those, and whether New Zealand would have any input into that process; and contact tracing system interoperability, in the event that we needed to do contact tracing for people who had been in one country, and were then identified as being more at risk after they had travelled to another country,” Hipkins said in the House.

So it appears the trans Tasman bubble will be a thing in the near future.  But until both populations have been sufficiently vaccinated I suspect that a constant recalibration of arrangements will be required.  And I am sure that flare ups of the virus on either side of the Tasman is going to upset and test any arrangements reached.

42 comments on “Bubble bubble toil and trouble ”

  1. Treetop 1

    ED departments are already stretched in the warmer months. The winter is the flu season and capacity in the health system gets stretched. With a trans Tasman bubble it is going to be harder to detect a community case of Covid-19 over the colder months in both NZ and Australia, people might just think they have a winter virus and not get checked out.

    In saying the above is there not another way of doing isolation for people coming from Australia to NZ?

  2. Incognito 2

    It feels like an act of despair or denial to open up when both sides of the Tasman still have such low vaccination levels. It’ll put an immense trust in and responsibility on the people tasked with keeping us safe and on the people who (want to) travel. Can they handle this? Is it fair to them?

    As far as JC and National are concerned, they seem to want to play a game in which they think they cannot lose. Yes, I know I’m cynical here, but just wait till something goes wrong and National starts the barking and blame game again.

    • swordfish 2.1

      Yep … no high-risk elderly have been vaccinated here & (apart from rest-home residents) they are way back in the pecking order: ie Group 3 (which I find extraordinary).

  3. Stuart Munro 3

    For my own part I'd want a minimum vaccination level before establishing a bubble with Oz – and probably saliva tests on boarding and a swab on arrival. No doubt the health folk have been working through a few protocols. A single port of entry with a low population mightn't hurt – there might be a role for Queenstown after all. All up though, if we want increased visitor traffic, building another thousand isolation spaces might be the smarter move.

  4. mpledger 4

    Do people flying in from Australia come in planes with only Australians or Australian quarantined people?

    Or is a plane-load a mix of Australians and people traveling from other destinations e.g. France-Sydney-Auckland?

    Maybe bubblers can leave from Melbourne and arrive in Chch and non-bubblers can leave from Sydney and arrive in Auckland.

    • KSaysHi 4.1

      My concerns too.

    • froggleblocks 4.2

      They're called 'green flights'. Such flights already operate from NZ going to Australia and contain only NZ residents who meet green flight criteria.

    • Enough is Enough 4.3

      You won't be able to transit Australia and enter New Zealand.

      You will need to be in Australia for at least 14 days prior to travelling to New Zealand.

      Thats the same as applies the other way now, and has since October.

  5. RedLogix 5

    Couple of thoughts.

    The big risk is the appearance of new variants that may be more infectious and lethal. I'm reading of so called .P1 mutation which may be killing younger people.

    Also the possibility that it's going to have a permanent reservoir of carriers in species like rodents, cats etc. In which case we will never eradicate it and it will need booster shots as we do for influenza – forever.

    Then the possibility that vaccinating during a pandemic where partially immune people are going to become infected with wild viruses at the same time, has the potential to put the virus under evolutionary pressure to do unexpected things. Very unknown territory.

    The good news is that nations with strong border controls are getting better at managing this all the time. In particular the ability to genetically trace the sequence of individual infections is quite astonishing – it's a real game changer. The most recent outbreak in Brisbane this past week was stomped on really fast.

    From a COVID perspective Australia is really seven different countries, each state managing it's own isolation and containment strategy. And arguably they're getting better at it over time.

    Personally I think trans-Tasman travel should be deferred another month to six weeks, at least until we're deeper into the vaccination effort and we understand how that's going to play out. But otherwise I think it's doable then with minimal risk.

  6. Sabine 6

    so the near future then will be in 2022 at best, considering that Europe, England and the US will tell us over the near future in the next three to four month if the vaccines hold up in regards to the new strains. Oh, and Tokio now has their own strain too, yuppie!

    Another tax payer funded travel trip up and down tourism land for Stuart boy to tell everyone to just be kind, gentle, patient, and no the government is not here to help?

  7. Graeme 7

    A huge influx of Australian tourists in the next three months is highly unlikely. We’re headed into the traditional off season fir that market and the Australian government is spending north of a billion AUD subsidising internal flights to try and get people travelling. We’ll be well down the list.

    The bubble will take a lot of load off MIQ, which will be good. The main uptake will be visiting friends and family, good for airlines and airports but won’t do much for the wider industry. A lot of businesses need a pickup in business levels this month or it’s all over for them, especially if they don’t have a winter product.

    Winter could be good for those that have the product but it’s a fickle beast, if the weather doesn’t do the deed in a critical window in June we get rolled by the Australian ski industry and struggle to turn the season around even with good snow later.

    • Sabine 7.1

      Stuart will come and tell all those that are ready to die over the next few month to do so silently and out of mind and eyes of everyone, lest they make a spectacle of them, and we can't have that in our kinder gentler world.

      Gosh, imagine the government giving money to money less kiwis so that they too could have something nice and stimulate the economy and prevent hundreds of businesses from going bust all at once.

  8. Foreign Waka 8

    It is very reckless to allow travel without having at least 70 % of kiwis vaccinated. The powers to be had a year to get this done. Why are we so far behind the 8 ball? Equally, the flu vaccinations are not fully available yet. I have asked and it is only 65 and over that are being scheduled from mid April onwards. What is going on? Have we spend 16 billions to support shareholders and run out of money for any of the vaccinations? And why have we gone through those lockdowns with threats that you can be fined and yet it will only need one carrier to create another lockdown. But that is ok, cos we need those tourists, maybe we should be looking at resourcing enough to have a lock down with another 2 million to support. Its 101 on how to set a country truly into the sand.

  9. Corey Humm 9

    My dad has been in and out of hospital with heart problems the last few weeks and the professionals are amazing but the funding and lack of time they have is disgusting. The idea that some rich pricks who think they have a god given right to go on luxury travels around the world might bring covid no matter how remote the chance is and put our already stretched healthcare system at the brink and risk the economy in another lockdown due to their need to vakay in melbs and the GC makes me freak out with anxiety. Wait until there's a suffient number of vaccinated people to have any bubble.

    I agree aussie doesn't seem to have their house in complete order.

    • Incognito 9.1

      Good point. Government should consider beefing up protection of the vulnerable, e.g. people with lower immunity. This might mean more stringent visiting hours & conditions in hospitals and rest and residential care homes, for example. No point stressing out a large number of people just so that a few can have their avocado on toast on the other side of the ditch.

      • Enough is Enough 9.1.1

        Vaccinating the vulnerable in the next couple of weeks would be the beefing up I want to see.

        • Incognito 9.1.1.1

          Yes, but not everyone who ends up in hospital or residential care is necessarily considered vulnerable beforehand and some may not be able to be vaccinated (in time). We need an extra firewall, IMO.

        • Foreign Waka 9.1.1.2

          Good luck with that. I can already tell you that people with Asthma have to wait until at least end of May if not longer for their flu vaccine and you are not able to get the corona jab at the same time unless you want to kill the old, sick and infirm. Hang on, where was this happen before???

        • mpledger 9.1.1.3

          My understanding is that vaccination just makes the effects of covid-19 less severe in most people. I doubt it will be enough to save some vulnerable people from the fatal effects of covid-19.

          • The Al1en 9.1.1.3.1

            Perhaps Pharmac should be looking at this as a 'just in case' for the vulnerable.

            https://www.msnbc.com/transcripts/transcript-rachel-maddow-show-3-11-2021-n1261004

            "Two new clinical trial results reported yesterday showing for people who tested positive for COVID, people at high risk of getting sick and dying from COVID, take this drug, 85 percent and 87 percent reduction in your chance of getting hospitalized or dying. Two different drugs, one with an 85 percent reduction, one with an 87 percent reduction.

            One of these drugs, the 87 percent one, is already approved for use in the United States. It`s made by Eli Lilly. Eli Lilly says they can make a million doses of that in the next few months.

            The other drug is made by Glaxo, and a biotech company called Vir. They say they`re applying for use authorization in the United States right away on the strength of these clinical trial results. Their clinical trial was actually called off by the advisory board overseeing it because the drug was working so well, they decided the only ethical thing to do was to stop the trial.

            They decided it wasn`t ethically right to keep giving half the people in that trial just a placebo when the drug itself was working so well. It was showing an 85 percent reduction in people having to go to the hospital and in people dying. Among people who were COVID positive and at high risk of getting sick."

            • Andre 9.1.1.3.1.1

              They didn't bother to name either medication, which makes it a bit hard to find more information.

              But further down the transcript, Fauci talked about them being monoclonal antibodies, which almost always means $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$, and that they need to be administered intravenously at an infusion centre.

              • The Al1en

                I don't mind paying my taxes, in fact, I'd be happy to pay a bit extra until we have the vulnerable covered. Certainly better value for money than what a flag referendum goes for, and gets you.

                • Andre

                  I'm picking the vaccination programme will be done and dusted at much lower cost long before either of these new treatments become any kind of viable option for New Zealand.

                  • The Al1en

                    Import a covid case from the Aus bubble, let it get in the community and do it's thing and these drugs become viable options for those most at risk of dying.

                    But let's hope with fingers, toes, eyes and legs crossed, you're correct on the vaccine roll out.

                    • Andre

                      From the limited information in that transcript, it seems they are still in quite early stages of clinical trials. Which means a long way away from even emergency use approval in the US, let alone Medsafe and Pharmac getting their chance to take a look at either of them.

                    • The Al1en

                      From the text above

                      "One of these drugs, the 87 percent one, is already approved for use in the United States. "

              • Incognito

                Yup, neutralizing antibodies and they’re not cheap but the trial results were strong although it was a small trial (BLAZE).

                https://investor.lilly.com/news-releases/news-release-details/lillys-bamlanivimab-and-etesevimab-together-reduced

                • Andre

                  Thanks.

                  That report makes it sound a bit further along than the Maddow transcript sounded like. But it is a talk-up from the developer company, so …

                  Scrolling down to the Authorised Use and Safety Information includes a lot of stuff that makes me go hmmmm …

  10. woodart 10

    travel insurance brokers are already saying they wont honour policies if borders are shut. so for any aussies trapped here, all round to judiths place .

    • Enough is Enough 10.1

      Kiwis and Aussies have been living with closed borders for over 12 months, and a very limited ability to actually get home when wanted. There is about a 3 month waiting list in both countries to enter MIQ.

      Being stranded on one side of the tasman or the other is not really going to be any worse than what has been happening for the past year.

      The message needs to be clear. You travel, we are not coming to help you if you get stranded, and Aussies stuck here is their problem

      • woodart 10.1.1

        I agree with you, but IF the borders shut again(and you would get good odds from bookmakers that WILL happen),there will be sob stories in media about uncaring polies etc. ..media SHOULD ,but wont of course, take some responsibility for overegging this situation. It amazes me that in this interconnected age, so many dont seem to have the ability to skype,zoom,conference call ,etc to friends and family overseas, but at the same time have the herald ,newdorkzb ,etc on speed dial ,for a whinge. the incessant whineing sounds coming out of queenstown wont stop, whatever happens. All of australia could visit and waste money in queenstown and there would still be moans about what could have been(could have been locked down for three months,like melbourne, thank you ,private enterprise eh?)

  11. gsays 11

    I would like to see at least 85 per cent compliance with the Covid tracer app/physical signing in before we extend trust to trans Tasman bubblers.

    If we can't do the bare basics ourselves, how do we expect others?

    • Foreign Waka 11.2

      Tracer app wont protect you, but vaccination will. Laissez-faire…

      • gsays 11.2.1

        Not sure what yr getting at. Is there a sarc tag missing?

        Edit. Full dislosure, I am wary of the attitude that everything’s ok, we’ve got the vaccine…

      • mpledger 11.2.2

        It's not complete protection, you should certainly get vaccinated but still follow all the othe precautions – wash hands regularly, don't touch your face etc.

    • froggleblocks 11.3

      How do you know if there is 85% compliance or not?

      • gsays 11.3.1

        The DG of Health seems to know how many sign ins there are (apps wise), so let's the peak of that and go 85% if that.

        There are lots of folk with degrees and Doctorates that are better at implenting my reckons than me.😀

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