Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Afraid of a trans-Tasman bubble

This morning the government is deciding on the start-date for a trans-Tasman travel bubble. Note the way that that's phrased: the existence of such a bubble is taken as a given, and the only question is how to implement it. Obviously, we're going to have to re-open the borders eventually, and Australia is the natural first step for that. But now (or the supposed date of mid-April) just seems to be far too soon. The moment we open this bubble, we expose ourselves to the risk that someone could catch Covid in Australia and bring it back here. At the moment, MIQ means such cases are firewalled at the border. Without that protection, it means community transmission, and then lockdown when we notice it.

How big is that risk? Australia's border seems pretty leaky, and they've had a couple of lockdowns already this year (Brisbane has just come out of one). But compounding that risk is the fact that their government is only committed to suppression, not elimination. Which means we'd be effectively adopting that goal too. And I'm not sure that's been made entirely clear to the public.

Can this risk be handled with the usual precautions of pre-flight testing and masks on planes? The regular flow of positive cases at the border suggests not. And I just think of French Polynesia, which opened its borders with exactly these "precautions" and got a pandemic which infected 7% of the population and killed one person in 2000 - about a hundred times our death rate - and which has only just been got under control.

So when do I think it would be safe for the borders to open? When we're all vaccinated. Which is exactly the approach being taken by the Pacific countries we're bubbling with. on the current timeline, that means waiting another six months or so. We've survived isolation for a year; we can wait a little longer until its actually safe to get back together.