Monday, 27 July 2020

Safe arrivals

If entry into New Zealand from abroad is safe, it should be allowed. 

People arriving from places that are Covid-free, or no more risky than New Zealand, and who get here on flights that do not intersect with risky places, should return to normal travel arrangements. Currently, the Cook Islands, the rest of New Zealand's Pacific Island realm, and Taiwan would fit the bill - along possibly with Vietnam, if the epidemiologists figure that's safe. Similarly, any Australian states that get things reliably under control and maintain adequate border measures against the states that haven't, could be invited into our Pacific 'bubble'. 

Entry from other places needs to be made safe. And New Zealand needs to scale up its managed isolation system so that more people can join us - both Kiwis abroad returning home and others who might wish to come in. 

I've been banging on about this for some time. We released a more thorough report on it late last week, with a column in Newsroom as prequel

Here's the basic mechanism we've proposed:
  • Arrivals from safe places of safe people (those who have not recently travelled outside of those safe places), on flights that do not involve transit or connections through unsafe places, should be allowed without requiring stays in managed isolation. Determining which places are safe or not should be left to the epidemiologists. 
  • Those arriving from risky places should be required to present their booking in a managed isolation facility before boarding a flight to get here. Making those arriving responsible for making their own bookings gives them some control over the times of their arrival and takes some of that burden off of the government. 
  • The government should start training up staff necessary to the scaling up of managed isolation. 
  • Rather than the government contracting out facilities for use as managed isolation facilities, those facilities should instead contract with the government to provide services - and charged at cost. Facilities would be free to set their own prices for stays in isolation. If prices in managed isolation started looking high during some times of year, other hotels or resorts or campgrounds might flip into becoming managed isolation providers - contracting with the government for the necessary health and other staff. 
  • Rather than the government charging a fee to some returning Kiwis for their stays in managed isolation, it could instead provide a voucher equivalent to the cost of a stay in a basic facility to those Kiwis whose stays the government would want to subsidise. I have a lot of sympathy for the #TeamOfSixMillion folks who want no charges for any returning Kiwis, but I worry that that way of doing things very quickly gets you into implicit rationing because of the cost to the state and voter distaste of shelling out a lot of money for the visits of Kiwis who have lived abroad for decades. The most likely outcome in that case is that the government makes a big deal about not charging because it would be unkind, but would just not do much to increase capacity and ignore the costs it imposes by lack of access. In any case, my ethics about who should get vouchers and who shouldn't are no better than anyone else's. I just think this mechanism makes it a lot easier to scale things up. Eligible Kiwis could apply the value of their vouchers to the full cost of a stay at a basic facility during non-peak times, or as partial payment for a stay at a nicer facility or for a stay during peak times. All of that helps encourage more hotels, motels, resorts and other places flip into becoming managed isolation facilities. 
I chatted with John Campbell about it on Breakfast, and with Mike Hosking on Newstalk (a 5.40 am pre-record egads!), and with Jesse Mulligan over on Afternoons. Susan Edmunds at Stuff covered it as well. 

Pattrick Smellie covered it at the Herald, but puts it into a standard 'health versus the economy' framework. 

The case for reopening to the Islands is not an economic one, at least not for New Zealand. It's a humanitarian one. New Zealand should be willing to admit travellers from the Covid-free Islands without an isolation period; those Islands' governments may be willing to allow travel from New Zealand without isolation as well. New Zealand wouldn't be picking up huge new business opportunities by reopening to the Cooks. But it matters a lot to families that are separated. And where they and NZ remain Covid-free, there is no sense in maintaining the restriction. We just need to be ready to reinstate restrictions if conditions change. 

And the measures I suggest for allowing more visitors from abroad to come to New Zealand under managed isolation come with increases in protective measures, like requirements that those visitors enable Google Maps location sharing with NZ contact tracing teams and show up for a post-isolation test - just to be sure. There's a lot you can to do increase capabilities and capacity on a user-pays basis for non-citizen arrivals when a lot of people are willing to pay a lot of money to come to NZ. 

He may be right that there's no public appetite for anything that might enable more people to come here, even if it's done with even tighter safety standards than are now in place. And that it's unlikely that the government will move much on this before the election. 

But it would be dumb to pitch measures that were actually a health/econ tradeoff - if anything of that sort compromised safety, we could quickly again be in lockdowns, and the losses on that side are easily greater than the gains from allowing more people through. It takes a lot of economic activity from new arrivals to make up for the GDP losses of lockdown. Scaling up safely matters. 

No comments:

Post a comment