8 May 2021

Covid-19: Trans-Tasman pause not needed - infectious diseases expert

6:16 am on 8 May 2021

It is time to fire back up the trans-Tasman bubble with New South Wales, according to an infectious disease specialist who says he would not have shut it down in the first place.

Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge - Australia, New South Wales

Travel has been paused with New South Wales amid new cases of Covid-19. Photo: 123RF

The New Zealand government paused quarantine-free travel with the state until midnight Saturday, pending more information after a Sydney man in his fifties and his wife tested positive for Covid-19 in the community.

Genome testing showed it was a similar strain to a person who was in quarantine after returning to Australia via the US, but authorities believe there could be other cases in the chain of infection.

However, Professor Peter Collignon from Australian National University said the risk of transmission between New South Wales and New Zealand was very low.

"With a population of about 5 million, there can't be that many people out in the community at the moment that have got it. Let's say worst case scenario, I'd assume there's four or five. It still means any one individual has less than a one in a million chance of having the virus at this point of time," he said.

"There must be a very low risk of anybody being in Sydney going back to New Zealand or anywhere else, of actually carrying the virus ... to put this in perspective, there's been people coming from overseas often, they've had a one or two percent chance of carrying the virus if they come back from the US or Europe for instance and slightly higher at the moment from India."

He said authorities and the community would need to eventually have a discussion on what level of risk was worth taking.

"My view is, we're going to have this problem for another couple of years, even after vaccination of most of the population ... we're going to still have this risk that the virus can transmit because the vaccines don't give you 100 percent protection.

"So at some stage, we're going to have to work out the level of risk we're willing to take. The more people are vaccinated, the more risk we can afford to take, because even if it does escape, there'll be less consquences, particularly to people over the age of 70, who are most of the people that died."

Collignon said considering the current risk level, he would not have closed travel with New South Wales over the new community cases.

"At a level of one in a million, I would think that's too low level of a risk to draw it all up, so to speak, but if there were a lot more cases then there is an argument to stopping people travelling freely until we get a lot more people vaccinated.

"I would actually think if we're not finding any more cases in New South Wales, then particularly if there's no more community cases where we don't know the source, yes I think it would be worth firing it up again, because I think that actually means the level of risk is very very low."

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