OPINION: Just when Christmas across the Tasman looked like a Covid-19 coated pipe dream, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said “it’s possible” our border could open with Australia on a state-by-state basis.
We need to take it with a relatively large, politically covered, grain of salt.
We’re three weeks out from an election, and the tantalising prospect of travel could be worth votes.
So what’s changed?
Victoria is still in the grip of its second wave, and New South Wales continues to see cases pop up in the community.
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Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison mooted the idea of a new “hot spot” system.
That would mean cities, regions or states with a low level of community transmission could restart travel between them.
However, if a state or region was deemed a “hot spot” – travel would be banned.
Australia wanted to extend the system to New Zealand.
The initial idea had a few issues – most notably the definition of “hot spot” and how tightly these would be policed.
New Zealand, of course, runs the risk of importing cases from a hot spot that was detected too late.
Nonetheless, officials have been working behind the scenes to iron out some of these issues and the leading contenders for trans-Tasman travel are states that have taken a similar approach to New Zealand.
So, we rate the states on the chances of Tasman travel by the end of the year.
Chance of travel this year: 6/10
Western Australia has taken a strict approach with Covid-19 and been without community transmission for more than five months.
Given Perth was a popular Air New Zealand destination, there is a strong possibility of travel resuming in the next few months.
The most significant factor holding back a travel bubble would be Auckland’s recent outbreak. For that reason, flights from Christchurch to Perth, which Air New Zealand operated before Covid-19, could be a first option until Auckland goes at least 28 days without any new cases.
Chance of travel this year: 5/10
Like Western Australia, Tasmania has taken a conservative approach and hasn’t recorded any new cases in many months.
However, no airline served the New Zealand to Hobart route before Covid-19, so it would take a little more effort to get the route established.
Tasmania is also likely to be cautious of Auckland’s recent outbreak, meaning flights from Wellington or Christchurch are more likely in the first instance.
New South Wales
Chance of travel this year: 3/10
New South Wales has avoided locking down in recent months, despite having a small and relatively steady stream of community cases detected since June.
Despite that, there are indications a widespread outbreak has been averted, with just two Covid-19 cases in the community over the past week, and only one of those with an unknown source. More than 70,000 tests were conducted in the past seven days.
However, I wouldn’t expect flights to and from Sydney before Christmas – it’s riskier than states like Western Australia, and New Zealand politicians would hate to see New Zealand locked down at Christmas because a case was imported and spread. A festive season in Aotearoa with limits on gatherings would be the equivalent of Santa turning up with a large lump of crumbling coal, and politicians would be in the firing line.
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Chance of travel this year: 4/10
Queensland has gone several weeks without community transmission, and will only deal with other states of Australia if they too have the situation under control. Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young – our equivalent of Dr Ashley Bloomfield – has taken a tough stance on the borders, and even has a constant police presence at her home after death threats.
Given Queensland is a favourite with Kiwis, re-opening will be a priority. However, places like the Gold Coast also attract a large number of interstate Australian travellers, which will make our Government a little cautious.
Chance of travel this year: 4/10
While South Australia has had a prolonged period of no community transmission, it has already reopened travel with New South Wales. This highlights the difficulty of a state by state approach.
If, for example, New Zealand won’t allow travel to and from New South Wales, how could we open to South Australia if its interstate border has already reopened?
In saying that, South Australia has had a strong record of infection prevention and could be in line for a Tasman bubble if cases in their community don’t pop up.
Chance of travel this year: 0/10
Victoria is the epicentre of Australia’s second wave, and recently topped more than 20,000 cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began. The state is on a timetable to ease restrictions before Christmas, but this won’t involve trans-Tasman travel.
Despite a strict lockdown that involved curfews, metropolitan Melbourne has still recorded 22 cases a day, on average, in the past two weeks.