Travel bubble stance at odds with advice

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash says the Government remains committed to the transtasman bubble, despite telling representatives from various chambers of commerce last Friday it was ‘‘pretty clear’’ Australian visitors will not travel here until the Government’s ‘‘reconnecting strategy kicks in’’.

That strategy, announced last month, is guided by the Government’s elimination strategy and vaccination rollout, while reducing the need for further lockdowns by strengthening the health and contact-tracing systems.

More information is expected to be released this month on a pilot self-isolation programme for a limited number of travellers between next month and December, and a new border system based on low, medium and high-risk entry paths will start early next year.

Quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand was paused on July 23, at first until about September 17.

During an online Q&A session last week with 17 representatives from chambers of commerce across New Zealand, Mr Nash was asked if there was a ‘‘plan for reopening the borders’’.

He replied, in part: ‘‘At some point, Cabinet is going to have to make a very difficult decision about when we … push go on reconnecting with the world.

‘‘I think it’s pretty clear that we won’t be having an Australian bubble again, certainly before that reconnecting strategy kicks in, because, as you’ve heard, they’ve pretty much thrown up their hands and abandoned the elimination strategy, certainly in New South Wales and Victoria.’’

However, in a statement to the Otago Daily Times, Mr Nash said the Government did want the bubble with Australia to resume, ‘‘and we remain committed to it’’.

‘‘No decisions have been made about a date for resumption of quarantine-free travel with Australia. However, it is abundantly clear that … is some way off given the nature of the community outbreaks and travel restrictions within states.’’

Given the situation in New South Wales, in particular, suspending the transtasman bubble was ‘‘the right thing to do’’, as it provided time for Australia to manage its outbreaks and gave New Zealand health officials time to monitor the situation, assess travel developments in other countries and consider different quarantine-free travel settings ‘‘while ensuring New Zealanders are safe’’.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said given the situation in New South Wales — where 1281 cases were recorded yesterday — ‘‘there’s no way in the world the border’s going to open until either Australia have it under control, or we are vaccinated …’’

But he hoped the country at large might be back in Level 1 ‘‘sometime in the next month or two’’ and had asked the Government to consider ‘‘incentive packages to incentivise people to travel, particularly over the summer’’.

Mr Nash’s Q&A with the chambers was, in part, to discuss a petition — signed by more than 50,000 businesses — for more support for small to medium businesses, specifically a suggestion the one-off resurgence subsidy could be varied and used for that purpose.

He told the ODT he had discussed the petition with Finance Minister Grant Robertson ‘‘and the Government remains open to considering other forms of business support’’.