Opening the Pacific and Other Bubbles
5 May 2021
People in the Cook Islands can already travel to New Zealand without having to quarantine. This is because it is a Covid free country. Tonga, Samoa and Niue are also Pacific countries that are Covid free.
The Prime Minister has announced that two-way quarantine-free travel will now be permitted with the Cook Islands. What we need now is for that Pacific bubble to expand to include the other Covid-free Pacific countries. With the arrival of vaccines, this should become possible for not only the Covid-free countries, but also for those countries who are on top of their Covid situations. This is a rapidly changing situation that is based on our fast vaccines roll out.
More is at risk than the health of the people in the Pacific and New Zealand. Our economic well-being is also at risk. The Pacific relies on tourism to earn valuable foreign exchange to keep their countries financially viable. The Pacific also provides seasonal workers for New Zealand’s primary industries, including horticulture and wine grapes as an important source of funds. In 2019, before Covid, some $40 million went back to the Pacific from workers’ earnings from seasonal work in horticulture and wine grapes. These workers enable our New Zealand industries to perform, grow and employ more permanent New Zealanders.
New Zealand should now be looking to other countries that have vaccinated a large portion of their population, and have Covid under control. It is time for global travel to re-commence; not only for each country’s tourism industries, but also for our exporters and the movement of skilled workers, such as wine makers and tractor drivers.
We live in a global world, and New Zealand only survives economically if we can sell our produce overseas, and attract tourists. The necessary isolation we have been under since March last year has shown that it is impossible for New Zealand to survive economically without travel links to the world. The overseas purchasers of our produce need in person contact with New Zealand producers, to create new marketing opportunities and to keep existing ones operating.
Just as we need to have access to the global skills so that we can grow and sell our produce around the world, our sales force and skilled workers need to travel as do tourists. Combined, tourism and our primary produce exports were worth $54 billion a year before Covid. We need to get back to those levels.
Changes are happening fast. What we think and know today, will be different tomorrow. Returning those parts of the world that have Covid managed and got most of their people vaccinated back to pre-Covid days is now an economic necessity. New Zealand’s part in this is to get our vaccination programme on track, and to open travel bubbles where this is appropriate. Opening the travel bubble with the Cook Islands is the start of the real change we need to see.