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Vaccines, outbreaks, closures as Tasman travel hopes persist

February 15, 2021 Coronavirus (Covid-19), Headline News No Comments

With Covid-19 vaccines arriving in Australia and New Zealand this week, the race is on to beat the coronavirus and establish the long-awaited two-way, quarantine-free, trans-Tasman travel bubble – even as authorities battle new outbreaks in both countries and Air New Zealand temporarily suspends its in-flight food and drink service.

Among the latest developments:

  • First supplies of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are expected to arrive in both Australia and New Zealand this week.
  • Victoria has imposed a “circuit-breaker” five-day lockdown after the B117 variant (or “UK strain”) of the virus, which is thought to be 30-70% more contagious, leaked out of a Melbourne quarantine hotel. Several other states immediately moved to close borders with Victoria, adding yet more uncertainty to interstate travel and spooking potential travellers.
  • Air New Zealand suspended its food and beverage service on domestic services for 24 hours “out of an abundance of caution” after a woman who works for an airline catering services company in Auckland tested positive for Covid-19. It turned out a father, mother and daughter had caught the coronavirus – the more infectious B117 variant (or “UK strain”). All three cases are considered to be community transmission. The mother works at LSG Sky Chefs, an airline laundry and catering facility – hence the precautionary move by Air New Zealand.

Unworried by the pandemic, a New Zealand fur seal basks in the sunshine on Paraparaumu Beach in the NZ North Island

  • Generally free of Covid-19, New Zealand moved into various degrees of lockdown (depending on location) after the Auckland outbreak. Aucklanders, including students, have been asked to stay home. Supermarkets, petrol stations and pharmacies will stay open. Queues were forming outside Auckland supermarkets last night ahead of the level 3 lockdown taking force.
  • Despite all this, New Zealand’s Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has confirmed that quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel – and travel between New Zealand and the Cook Islands – remains a strong possibility by the end of March. The Tasman bubble will only happen if Australia does not pull the plug over small outbreaks, Hipkins added.

Hipkins told RNZ’s Checkpoint program: “The last thing that we want to have is tens of thousands of New Zealanders … we’d be having 100-plus flights a week going either way across the Tasman, we’d need to be very certain about what would happen in the event of positive cases on either side of the Tasman, and both countries need to be absolutely sort of locked into that.

“Otherwise it will create big headaches for either side in the event that we have to respond to either an outbreak or even just an isolated case.”

  • Meanwhile, Europe is calculating the pandemic’s devastation to its travel industry. Three cruise ships visited the Greek island of Santorini last year, compared with nearly 600 in 2019. European Commission figures released on Thursday indicated tourist travel to Italy, Spain and Greece fell at least 70% in 2020.
  • Britain’s Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has advised Britons to hold off booking holidays, as there were too many unknowns. In a classic piece of guidance, Shapps declared: “The best advice is do nothing at this stage.”

Written by Peter Needham


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