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National Party leader Judith Collins calls for immediate Pacific travel bubble

National leader Judith Collins says there’s no reason Pacific nations can’t form part of the new travel bubble now.

National leader Judith Collins is pushing for a Pacific travel bubble. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas
National leader Judith Collins is pushing for a Pacific travel bubble. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

By RNZ

Collins wants the government to move quicker in allowing quarantine-free travel from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

A bubble with Australia had been unnecessarily put off and that shouldn’t now be the repeated with safe Pacific nations, she told Morning Report.

The government announced yesterday it would operate the bubble on a state-by-state basis with Australia from 19 April, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned if there was a local lockdown tourists should not rely on the government to bail them out.

Collins said the ‘traffic-light’ system announced by the government yesterday was a reasonable way of assessing risk associated with any Covid-19 outbreak in Australia and determining whether trans-Tasman travel needed to be paused at any point.

Collins agreed any decisions on travel had to ultimately be based on health considerations and that business interests couldn’t take priority.

But she said the Pacific islands had proven they could maintain a Covid-free status and delaying a Pacific bubble would hurt those nations’ economies, as well as New Zealand’s horticulture sector, which depended on workers from those nations.

She said a date of 1 May had already been agreed with the Cook Islands, and that she was bemused the government hadn’t announced that publicly.

Collins agreed any decisions on travel had to ultimately be based on health considerations and that business interests couldn’t take priority.

But she said the Pacific islands had proven they could maintain a Covid-free status and delaying a Pacific bubble would hurt those nations’ economies, as well as New Zealand’s horticulture sector, which depended on workers from those nations.

“In the Pacific, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, there is no Covid-19. If anywhere is safe it is those countries and I don’t understand why we don’t have a Pacific bubble. That is something where the government need to move on this,” she said.

But Pasifika nations should be able to join the system immediately, both to alleviate the economic hardship in those countries and to allow Pacific workers into New Zealand to take up work in the horticultural sector, she said.

“I think it can be done very quickly. I’m very aware that the Cook Islands has been told the bubble with the Cook Islands will be open on 1 May, but for some reason the government isn’t telling New Zealanders that. I don’t understand why that is being held back.

“When it comes to Tonga and Samoa they haven’t had one case of Covid-19 in their countries and they’ve got a record of being able to keep it out altogether.

“I think it is really important that we also look at how these countries are being extraordinarily hit by lack of tourism, but also the RIC workers, who have been working in New Zealand.

“They are absolutely crucial to the economy in these countries. Fiji is another example – they haven’t had any Covid in the community for over a year. These are countries were they are crying out for help.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report she was confident the travel bubble was safe and that there existed a good working relationship between the countries’ health authorities to keep it that way.

She said there was an official communication platform operating between Australia and New Zealand and that system was working efficiently.

“Essentially we’ve been able to share information between us…

“We are confident enough of course and you’ll hear epidemiologists and other experts supporting this decision.

“But what we are saying to travellers is just be prepared. You will have seen that we’ve had a number of pauses in the one-way arrangements we’ve had with Australia thus far and if there are outbreaks it may happen in the future.”

If there are cases connected to border, well identified and well contained it was likely travel arrangements would continue, she said.

“If you have a question mark over what happened and how widespread, we may need to pause the travel arrangement for up to 72 hours while we gather more information. And if it’s a larger outbreak we’re likely to suspend.”

A group of ministers, supported by health officials would decide whether to suspend travel or not in light of Covid-19 outbreaks.

“We’ll be utilising the group of ministers in the same way we have for Covid-related decisions that need to be made with urgency… We will always be informed by the director-general of health for our decisions,” Ardern said.

The Cabinet subcommittee would include Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, border-related ministers, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, Ardern said.

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