Calls grow for Government to consider travel bubble with Asia

Corazon Miller
Source: 1News

While a travel bubble with Australia looks imminent, there are growing calls for the Government to look further — to Asia.

Business, political and health experts all say that the negative perception of a region where the virus began is unfounded as countries like Taiwan, Singapore and even China seem to be managing the virus well.

Kenneth Leong is the chairman of the ASEAN Business Council. He acknowledges establishing a wider bubble takes time and must be done with a careful evaluation of the risks.

But he says a conversation is long overdue, especially as there is currently significant interest among international students, investors and business people in Asia who want to do business here.

“The longer we wait the more likely others are going to open up to our trading partners and we lose out on this window of opportunity.

“I think we have six months to get this going.”

He says while a physical travel bubble may be a long way off, such conversations could also help alleviate some of the current negative perceptions around Asia and its people.

“The problem is there is no public discourse, so because people don’t know what is happening, naturally they are fearful.

“The virus originated from Asia, so that has caused a lot of concern,” he says.

“But the facts are that many of these countries have successfully managed to deal with Covid and they have dealt with Covid perhaps in some places even better than us.”

Nick van Halderen is an English teacher and drag queen living in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei.

Strutting it out on the stage under his drag name Taipei Popcorn, life looks as close to normal as it gets in the time of a global pandemic.

But some of his closest family, including his 30-year-old twin sister and 92-year-old Grandma, are more than 9000 kilometres away in New Zealand.

“She’s getting to the age where I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to see her, and that’s why I’d really love to go home at some point.

“Whenever I’m in New Zealand she and I go to the art gallery and check out paintings and have a long talk.”

He says video calls lack the same connectivity.

“She’s going down a little bit and she needs that physical presence. If there were a travel bubble I’d totally come to New Zealand for a month at least and go spend some time with my grandma.”

But, with New Zealand’s focus fixed firmly across the Tasman and to the Pacific, a quarantine-free Asian connection feels like distant dream.

“I don’t know if I will see them next year, or the year after, or how long it will be. It’s the uncertainty that is the most taxing,” he says.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the decision is based on risk.

“We have been taking a risk-based framework ... and we will continue to do that as we look to opening up the border over the course of the next year or so.”

Taiwan is one of several Asian countries to have kept the virus in check. As of the end of March figures from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center showed it had had 1023 cases compared to our 2495 and Australia’s 29,296.

It’s also had fewer deaths, just ten compared to our 26 and Australia’s 909. It’s also avoided a full lockdown and all its 75 recent cases have been at the border.

Australia had 336 including several that triggered a lockdown in Brisbane. It’s a similar story in Vietnam and despite a higher number of overall cases Singapore is now seeing similar weekly numbers to Australia.

These nations, which could all be serviced in a single flight, and their success is prompting growing calls for the Government to look beyond our immediate backyard.

Epidemiologist and public health physician Michael Baker says Taiwan has been a “huge success story”.

“They have been very proactive, they have good systems, they never needed a lockdown.”

He says given the good trade relations New Zealand has with Taiwan it would be a great country to consider expanding our bubble to.

“I think it is very realistic in the medium term to have an extended green travel bubble zone with countries in Asia.”

Charles Finny a government relations consultant at Saunders Unsworth says Australia is a logical first choice.

“But I think we should be moving fast to be joining up to those countries in Asia.”

“I think the effects of us opening, to more countries would be very powerful, it is going to help our tourism sector, it is going to help our international education sector, it's going to help our exporters and as soon as we start getting passengers on those aeroplanes it's going to drop the cost of airfreight as well ... so win, win, win.”

Jerry Clode, founder of The Solution, is a China business expert who believes our connections in the Asia-Pacfic Economic Forum could offer an airmap to the future.

“Use our leadership in that organisation to create protocols, across international borders and that could kickstart a really important process in our economy.”