‘Crushing the Soul of the Kiwis’: Tourism Industry, Airlines and Kiwis Abroad Respond to Border Delay
The government has announced a series of changes to strengthen New Zealand’s defenses against the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Video / NZ Herald
A move to delay reopening New Zealand’s borders has been called “heartbreaking” by airline officials, “overwhelming” by tourism and has left Kiwis abroad “devastated”.
Today, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced that the reopening will be delayed until the end of February, instead of mid-January.
This is part of a series of new changes, including advancing the date on which Kiwis can get boosters, in an effort to reduce the impact of the Omicron variant spreading overseas.
Board of Airlines Representatives of New Zealand (Barnz), Executive Director
Justin Tighe-Umbers said hundreds of people who booked to return home from Australia from mid-January are now having to roll the dice to try and get an MIQ room.
“Barnz is disappointed with the decision to delay opening the border, but understands why it was made. Aside from the effect on families and people who haven’t been able to see each other for almost two years, it’s is a big blow to the tourism industry. “
Tighe-Umbers said there was a need to be open-minded if experience abroad shows New Zealand’s healthcare system is unlikely to be put under pressure by the new variant.
“Despite record cases, New South Wales is continuing plans to open its border from Tuesday. With Victoria, it has lifted its requirement for international arrivals to self-isolate for 72 hours.
“Travel restrictions are not a long-term solution to controlling Covid variants. “
Grounded Kiwis spokeswoman Alexandra Birt told the Herald it was especially difficult for people who were in low risk areas.
Birt said many people had been trying to come back for months but had stopped entering the “lottery system” when they could book flights home without needing to go through MIQ.
“For many people [in Australia] they lost their jobs, they are waiting to start new ones [in New Zealand]. “
She said it was frustrating that New Zealand was using the border as a direct measure instead of taking vaccination levels into account, whether Omicron was in the region or the rate of Covid-19.
Birt believed that New Zealand was the only country that still prevented citizens from returning home.
During the press conference, Hipkins said they had tried to provide certainty and he was “sorry” for not meeting that deadline, but the reality is that Covid has continued to pose more challenges for the government .
Regarding expanding MIQ, Hipkins said they still intend to have home MIQ as the default setting. It had been delayed for six weeks, but that is still the plan.
Canterbury University professor Michael Plank said the package announced today will help protect the health of New Zealanders from the threat posed by the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
“We know it can spread extremely quickly and that two doses of the vaccine, while still far better than none, will likely be less effective for Omicron than for Delta. There is growing evidence to suggest that a third dose of the vaccine restores immunity to a much higher level. “
Plank said New South Wales is currently experiencing a very rapid Omicron outbreak and the variant is spreading to several other Australian states as well.
“Going forward with plans to reopen the borders in January, even with the home isolation program, would mean Omicron would almost certainly enter the New Zealand community within weeks, if not days. “
He said postponing plans to reopen until the end of February gives us a chance to keep Omicron away until the majority of adults have received their third dose of the vaccine.
“Increasing the MIQ stay to 10 days and shortening the pre-departure testing period from 72 to 48 hours are good ways to reduce the risk of leakage from the highly transmissible Omicron variant of MIQ.”
Tourism Export Council of New Zealand chief executive Lynda Keene said it was heartbreaking to learn that the thousands of Kiwis in Australia who have booked a ticket home (NZ) from January 17, 2022, now have to put their lives on hold again.
“It can be assumed that the thousands of Kiwis in the rest of the world will also have their travel plans disrupted from February 14, 2022. What an emotional roller coaster yet again that will crush the souls of Kiwis and their loved ones here in New Zealand. “
Keene said the government’s inability to provide actual dates was cruel and meant no traveler had any idea when they might return.
“Poor Air NZ and Jetstar staff who also thought they could look forward to the next few days for Christmas now have to work even longer hours to book or cancel tickets with many stranded travelers.”
She urged the government to provide more certainty and said the mental stress suffered by business owners is pushing people into depression.
“What’s the point of the country breaking its belly to get over 90% full vaccines if we don’t even give the vaccine a chance to do its job?” Has the government lost confidence in itself and its people? It seems yes. “
For those who have booked flights from Australia to return home from January 16, Hipkins said they will work closely with airlines and MIQ on a new release date. They would ensure that Australians could have access to it.
Those with a critical need to return could always request it, he said. In the latest lobby press release, 500 rooms had not been taken, so demand had slowed.