3 Feb 2022

Border re-opening plan: Businesses 'chomping at the bit' but want more detail

8:21 pm on 3 February 2022

The country needs to scrap several days in self isolation for fully vaccinated arrivals by the middle of the year, a government business adviser says.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 26:  Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe delivers the Air New Zealand annual results to media on August 26, 2010 in Auckland

The border re-opening plan will helps businesses get back on the world stage during challenging economic times, Rob Fyfe says. Photo: Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has laid out the timeline for "reconnecting New Zealand to the world" when fully vaccinated returnees and visitors can bypass MIQ and self isolate instead.

New Zealanders and other eligible travellers coming from Australia will be the first in under the new criteria, starting from 27 February.

It's July for business travellers and Australian tourists and not until October for other international visitors.

At the start self-isolation will last 10 days - the same as for close contacts of Omicron cases, but that will drop to seven eventually.

The government business adviser on Covid-19, Rob Fyfe, welcomed the plan, saying businesses will be relieved as the country goes into a "very difficult economic period".

"Businesses will be chomping at the bit to get out and try and secure both their customers and the supply chains have been incredibly challenged as well.

"So to meet with both suppliers and customers, to ensure as the economy does start to become challenged, that we're in the best position we can to compete on the global stage, [it's] incredibly important."

Asked how much of businesses' wishlist had been met, he said they still needed "more speed" and "more certainty".

While today's announcement provided certainty around the first three steps there was not as much for steps four and five, he told Checkpoint.

"If you take inbound visitors, the key is actually moving away from self isolation or home isolation because that becomes a massive barrier. We don't know when that will happen. We don't have visibility of that yet."

Fyfe said he would like to see the country move from seven days of self-isolation to a framework where a traveller was tested pre-departure and on arrival, and then waited at home for a PCR result.

"And if that comes back negative you're treated the same as everyone else and I would hope that we could be in that position around the middle of the year. That would be my ambition.

"That would be really embraced by particularly the inbound tourism industries and visitor industries.

"So I'd like to see that happen, but I understand why we can't make that decision today as we're facing into a Omicron wave that's going to hit New Zealand but I'd hope well before we get to June that there's serious consideration for that possibility."

He was still hopeful that the government will make it much easier for Australians to skip home isolation for the winter ski season to help boost areas like Queenstown.

"[Ardern] didn't mention much about about the removal of self isolation or home isolation requirements. So she was mum on that but I think the world is moving down that path. We're going to be an outlier if we don't move to that position say some time around the middle of the year."

He agreed that with record low unemployment and businesses crying out for workers, the provision to allow some skilled workers to enter the country was significant.

Workers were needed across the economy and some businesses might be frustrated at the pace of allowing foreign workers to enter.

"But I do accept that it has to progress gradually. You can't just open the floodgates in one go and and accept the risk to the health system," Fyfe said.

Asked how much confidence he has that the government will stick to its timeline and not delay it in the face of a large number of Omicron cases, he said the government understands the consequences of "stop start, on off".

"I think the government is very committed that we're past the phase of using lockdown unless we're in absolute crisis. I think the same goes for once we move into this border framework - they won't move backwards unless there's a genuine health crisis that demands it and based on Omicron and what I'm seeing around the world, I don't think that that is a high risk for us."

Self-isolation will be deterrent - Tourism NZ boss

The plan also provides some relief for tourism providers, however, Tourism New Zealand chief executive Rene de Monchy agreed the self isolation requirements would be a deterrent for many visitors.

Those who had family and friends here would not find it a barrier and home isolation periods would gradually reduce, making it more attractive for international visitors, he said.

October is a key month for the country as it heads into the peak summer period.

This meant winter would still be difficult for many local tourism providers and it would be vital to keep encouraging New Zealanders to visit their own backyard.

Tourism NZ is still promoting the country overseas so people "can dream for that future trip" which can take months or years to plan.

"We need people to be dreaming about that now so that they can convert it to what will more likely be [a visit] later in the year as we head into those summer months."

Asked if young backpackers would still see Aotearoa as an attractive destination, he said they would and because they came for longer the self-isolation period may not be so daunting for them.

Wendekreisen, campervan, camper van

A Wendekreisen campervan. Photo: 123RF

De Monchy said the emphasis for attracting international travellers was still "the high quality visitors", and looking beyond the spending levels and what value they can bring and what time of year they would like to visit.

Skiing holidays with isolation requirements would be a challenge but if the government changed its isolation requirements, Australians would be able to respond quickly to any opportunities.

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