March 21, 2021
Constant calls from the tourism industry to open New Zealand’s border with Australia seem to be drowning out several other more important calls.
The first call the tourism industry appears not be hearing from the Government is that we must remain vigilant to keep Covid-19 out of the country. We might have a world class system in place to keep the community safe from possible infection from people returning to New Zealand from overseas but that is far from error proof. Requiring new arrivals to go into managed isolation for two weeks on arrival will only be effective if everyone obeys the rules and not everyone has so far.
Already in the past week we had five new cases of Covid-19 arrive from overseas and all were put into quarantine. While the Government has eased some quarantine requirements, opening our borders to foreign tourists would be unforgivably irresponsible.
There will be a few people who can read a newspaper or listen to radio or television who do not know what a lucky escape we had from the virus which has devasted those nations which did not act as quickly or effectively as we did when they had the time to do so. Tourism leaders most certainly know the Covid situation as well as anyone yet we still hear plaintive bleating that their businesses are suffering. We know that. We have heard it many times and there has been a massive financial assistance package for those in genuine need but they are still not listening. Their industry will never return to what it was post-Covid and they need to accept that and adapt their operations accordingly rather than demand a return to what used to be.
Last week tourism operators in Waikato called on the Government to open the border with Australia as soon as possible. The Government will no doubt do that “as soon as possible” but, as things are, we don’t know when that might be as Australia is still a long way behind New Zealand in controlling the pandemic.
On Wednesday South Australia went into a strict six-day lockdown in an attempt to get on top of a growing Covid-19 cluster in Adelaide. The outbreak is the first evidence of community transmission in the state since April last year with about 4000 people identified as close contacts. All are in self-quarantine and Premier Steven Marshall is calling the outbreak their biggest test to date.
Schools were closed, except those taking vulnerable children and those of essential workers. Universities, pubs, cafes, and takeaway food places all closed and weddings and funerals were banned for the six days.
Queensland and Western Australia quickly closed borders and all travellers from South Australia to Tasmania are required to go into quarantine.
Do we really want to open our borders to Australia and subject New Zealanders to that risk after all we have been through to so far just for tourism? This damn thing kills people, particularly the elderly and the those with underlying medical conditions, and the vaccines are not a silver bullet. There are already mutations of the virus which may not be affected by current vaccines so the war is far from won. The borders must remain closed until it is safe to open them.
The other call the tourism industry seems to be deaf to is the plight of our agriculture and horticulture industries both of whom are desperate for workers at all levels. This year’s pip fruit and grape harvests in many regions are in serious jeopardy through a shortage of seasonal workers. Autumn vegetable and cereal crops also need hundreds of employees to harvest them and many dairy farmers are facing next spring seriously short of workers.
Not all this essential work requires the operation of big machinery or specialist knowledge. Some of it is also a bit more demanding that serving out latte coffees or driving buses full of tourists but it needs to be done for the sake of the economy and we have enough people to do it.
It makes no sense to have hundreds of tourism industry staff in fretting about being out of work while the agriculture and horticulture industries are desperately short of the same number staff.
Another call the tourism industry probably does not want to hear comes from thousands of New Zealanders who want to continue enjoying their special outdoor places without being smothered by hordes of visitors.
Generations of New Zealanders have always moved around the country following available seasonal employment and young people are more able to do that than most others. Now would be a good time to resume that tradition and they might have as much fun as we did at the same time.