Once New Zealand has a safe number of people vaccinated for COVID-19, what will it take for the Government to open the border to countries other than Australia and in the Pacifc?
That was the question put under the microscope by airlines and airports in a session facilitated by Justin Tighe-Umbers, executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of New Zealand (BARNZ), together with Rob Fyfe and Sir Bill English.
Mr Tighe-Umbers says it is obvious that opening the border to places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Seoul needs to be tied to New Zealand’s vaccination roll out. The aviation sector is keen to work with the Government on the strategy that will allow that to happen.
“Around the world, countries have developed what they call green, amber and red countries, or a risk-based system” Mr Tighe-Umbers says. “They are related to not only the transmission numbers for COVID, but to how many of a country’s population have been vaccinated.
“IATA (the International Air Transport Association) recently reported that more than 20 countries have wholly or partially lifted restrictions for vaccinated travellers, based on data and evidence driven decisions.
“New Zealand also needs to move to letting people in based on their vaccination status and the risk posed by the country from which they are travelling.”
Airport and airlines, together with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have developed in flight, in airport and cross border systems to make air travel as safe as possible. IATA has developed a travel pass – an electronic document (carried by mobile phone) that shows vaccination status – which is created by authorised laboratories and private to the individual vaccinated.
Mr Tighe-Umbers says the key to opening the border to travellers outside Australia and the Pacific will be New Zealanders having a good understanding of how the system works. The “travel bubble” with Australia had already provided a good demonstration of its flexibility.
“What needs to be at the border, such as pre-departure testing, vaccine status checks and isolation, and what level of vaccination, contact tracing and health system capacity is required for New Zealand to safely start opening the border?
“That’s what we need to know – and now. If we don’t move on these things, we risk New Zealand becoming more isolated as airlines allocate their fleets to countries that are already putting these systems in place.
“If airlines wanting to bring passengers long haul to New Zealand don’t know how long the wait will be for the border to open, they will leave.
“Restoring those connections could take years,” Mr Tighe-Umbers says.