NZ PM Jacinda Ardern says opening the country’s borders is “frankly dangerous” – but Australian airports are still keen to see the trans-Tasman bubble launch.

Thousands of jobs in the tourism sector will be lost if domestic travel isn’t opened up over the next three weeks, according to the Australian Chamber of Tourism’s John Hart.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says opening the country’s borders would be “frankly dangerous” until coronavirus cases begin to drop across the world, as Aussie airports push for the trans-Tasman travel bubble to go ahead.

Ms Ardern was responding to Opposition Leader Todd Muller’s suggestion that keeping the borders closed would be “untenable”.

She said some parts of the world had not even reached their peak in terms of cases, and that global diagnoses had topped 10 million in a matter of months.

“Any suggestion of borders opening at this point, frankly, is dangerous and I don’t think we should put NZ in that position,” she said.

Her position on Australia, where cases appear to have stagnated in most states, appeared was more generous, with the PM noting she would consider travel to COVID-free Australian states, should the Australian Government allow it.

“Ultimately, it’s up to Australia to decide whether or not they’ll go for a whole country approach or a state-by-state approach,” she said.

“Obviously, where there is community outbreak, that is a no-go for New Zealand.

“Where they have border controls in place and where they’ve had no community transmissions for sustained periods of time … that may be a different scenario.”

The first flight between the two countries – a charter flight from Canberra to Wellington, was hoped to have taken off today, but was delayed after Victoria experienced a huge spike in community-transmitted coronavirus cases.

Stephen Byron, the managing director of Canberra Airport, said ongoing government discussions and the situation south of the border had put a pin in it.

“The nature of the return of the virus into Melbourne, together with continuing discussions with governments in Australia and New Zealand has meant we’ve pushed back flights,” he said.

“We’re targeting the last 10 days of July, but it’s really dependent on the health situation and decisions of the Government.”

Canberra Airport called out for expressions of interest in the travel route last month, and Mr Byron said to date 4000 people had registered.

“People do want to travel between Australia and New Zealand, people want to come home, so both ways, and they want to do it without quarantine,” Mr Byron explained.

To open the bubble, the Government first needs to allow Australians to fly to New Zealand – which currently can only be done via a hard-to-get exemption and National Cabinet must end the requirement for quarantine between the two countries.

The third component of the opening is airports must schedule flights and processing of passengers so there are two clear sections – one for passengers heading to quarantine and a “green lane” for those who will be able to go straight to their destination.

“If you’ve got a flight to New Zealand going out of gate 23 at Sydney Airport, (the green lane means) the flight arriving from Delhi is probably going to arrive at gate 63,” Mr Byron explained.

The executive said Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne airports were all developing green lanes, with Sydney’s understood to be “advanced, finalised and in for approval”.

Canberra’s international airport will only have flights from and to countries within the bubble – making it a safe choice for the first journeys.

“Not only are these areas entirely free from risk of infection from quarantining passengers, but all staff will be COVID safe because they will not be subject to processing passengers bound for quarantine,” Mr Byron said.

He said Canberra, which has never had a case of community transmission, and Wellington, which has had an enviously low rate of cases throughout the pandemic, were obvious choices for the first flights.

“If you want to start absolutely risk free, start with Canberra and Wellington,” Mr Byron said.

“Ours is the least risky, the most safe and the most ready for the earliest possible start date.”

Mr Byron said it was “entirely logical to be wary of Melbourne”, which recorded 75 new cases on Monday.

The airport boss suggested Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane could slowly start to increase flights, with Melbourne joining when it had controlled the community transmission of the virus throughout the state – a staggered start similar to the government approach in schools and cafes.

“As an industry, I think the airports are ready, we are ready, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane airports are ready – organisations such as the Transport Tourism Forum and others have done a huge amount of work … whatever strategy works to achieve the earliest possible start date is the strategy we want to follow,” Mr Byron said.

He said the four major airports were all expected to receive approval for their green lane setups within the next fortnight, and while recognising the importance of caution, he urged the Government to push forward with the plans.

“If you’re going to wait until September, a lot of tourism businesses will go broke,” he said. “You need to set a date.”


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