Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Better borders

Kate MacNamara over at the Herald goes through the problems caused by the current lack of capacity in New Zealand's managed isolation facilities
New Zealand's current border settings allow only citizens and permanent residents into the country, with very limited exceptions.

Despite these restrictions, demand has threatened to overwhelm the Government's capacity to accept arrivals, at least under the current policy settings. New Zealand requires all arrivals to spend at least 14 days in managed isolation, at which point most leave following a negative test for the virus.

Capacity for such approved facilities is roughly 6000 per fortnight. Recently, those facilities came so close to brimming over that the Government, through airlines, suspended new international bookings for arrival into the country for most of July.

The log jam has many implications. It curtailed the ability of New Zealanders abroad to return home (there is an estimated one million, though there is no way currently to estimate demand for return). It has also pushed farther toward the horizon the prospect of New Zealand accepting a wider range of arrivals, foreign students, work visa holders and tourists among them.

All have large implications for the economy; foreign students brought in some $5 billion annually before Covid-19. International tourism was more valuable still.
MacNamara also notes the suggestions I've had for scaling things up at the border. 

This is a problem that isn't going to go away. The virus is going to be around for a long time. Getting things set at the border to enable more people safely to re-enter will become increasingly important. Delaying travel gets more and more costly for those who are able move their travel plans around. 

Even the best system can leak. Making sure that contact tracing is up to spec is important. I still think it would be a good idea for the government to start training even more contact tracers, just in case. They could manage it as a kind of Army Reserves, but for contact tracing. Pay people from all over the country to attend training and provide a stipend for them to be willing to be called into contact tracing service if needed for the door-knocking parts of the job that cannot be done from remote call-tracing centres.

Meanwhile, Stuff reports that AirNZ understands the government now to be working on a voucher system for returning Kiwis. I have no inside knowledge on that one - I have floated the idea in opeds over the past month or longer, and on twitter, [update - and a podcast!] well before our report on it came out last week. 

I hope that AirNZ is right on this!
Air New Zealand chief commercial and customer officer Cam Wallace said the Government was looking to set up a voucher system which passengers would need to access in order to return to New Zealand, regardless of which airline they flew with.

His understanding was that it would be up to customers to obtain vouchers before booking an airfare home. Failure to do so would result in passengers not being allowed to board a flight to New Zealand.

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