30 Jun 2020

Border reopening must be priority - Business NZ

8:00 am on 30 June 2020

The business community pinned its hopes on the border reopening as soon as possible and says the government's failed to hold up its end of the deal.

A woman with a backpacker wheels a suitcase at an airport

Photo: 123RF

Business leaders say billions of dollars of opportunities are on hold while the government and the army fix up mistakes most New Zealanders thought were being managed.

The government is frantically trying to plug those gaps, while at the same time the Opposition ramps up pressure for the border to open.

Almost four million international tourists typically cross New Zealand shores each year and BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said livelihoods depend on that window opening again.

But for now, the government isn't even resuming compassionate exemptions let alone allowing international visitors in, because there isn't enough confidence in quarantine and managed isolation facilities.

"Until we can guarantee that, I think we have to rightly say the risk is too high, now that's disappointing because those things are all completely manageable," he said.

Hope said the border reopening needed to be a priority.

"We do need to get the border in because the economic impact of being shut is so significant," he said.

Business owners accept things have moved quickly in the wake of Covid-19, and at times have been done a bit on the hop, Hope said.

But the longer it takes to clean up the mess, the bigger the losses.

In the case of international students, he said, they could be arriving right now.

"Our universities could properly quarantine people in New Zealand and we could get that part of our international economy going again. International education contributes a significant amount of money, some $5 billion a year," he said.

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Jacinda Ardern and Todd Muller. Photo: NZME / RNZ

National leader Todd Muller in a speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce yesterday, said it appeared New Zealand would stay closed until other countries have reduced their Covid presence to similar levels.

"The idea that we can sit here at the bottom of the world with 20 percent of our exports off the table in terms of international students and tourism and essentially just trade amongst ourselves for the foreseeable future, locked up to the rest of the world and waiting for a vaccine, I think is untenable as a long term strategy," he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has thrown the Opposition leader's own words back at him.

"It is untenable to consider the idea of opening up New Zealand's borders to Covid-19 and in some parts of the world where we have had frequent movement of people they're not estimating that they will reach a peak for at least a month or sometimes several months," she said.

Muller said what's going on at the border was shambolic and he wanted to know what was required for New Zealand to enter into travel bubbles with other countries, such as Australia and the Pacific.

Ardern said even considering opening the border right now was reckless.

"Any suggestion of borders opening at this point frankly is dangerous and I don't think we should put New Zealand in that position," she said.

While the borders remain shut to international visitors for now, the number of New Zealanders choosing to return home continues to rise.

Cabinet is yet to make any decisions on whether the government will start charging people part of the cost of staying in quarantine or isolation.

But for those wanting to jump across the ditch and beyond for a trip abroad and get a 14-day stay on the taxpayer on their return will be out of luck.

Ardern said it's a question of fairness and those choosing to leave and come back need to accept they could end up footing the bill.

Copayment rhetoric 'hostile'

Auckland woman Merja Myllylahti travelled to Finland in February to bury her father, and she's been stuck there ever since after two attempts to get back in March failed.

She's due to finally return on Saturday, but said suggestions of a copayment had felt hostile and made her question if she even wanted to return.

"I do understand there's financial pressure with the government to do something... I understand if people have left after the lockdown... if there is a payment for that.

"But if you have left before the lockdown, how can you actually justify? The whole debate in the media and social media was so hostile.

"Really I could not understand the rhetoric. Our fellow citizens are talking about us like 'them', 'these people', and this is really hurting and upsetting...

"You're already anxious, you've been anxious for months. You've been stressed, you've been crying, you've been missing your family and your friends and your home and then you get all this extra hostility and discussions that you have to pay. It's a huge emotional stress."

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