While the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines begin in parts of the world, Tourism Minister Stuart Nash says the Government is still unsure when it will allow international tourists back into the country.
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash told TVNZ1’s Q+A this morning the Government was keeping an eye on vaccine rollout globally.
It comes as the UK approved Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for use started this week, becoming the first country to do so. Russia has also started its roll out of the Sputnik V vaccine.
Host Jack Tame asked Nash when New Zealand would allow tourists that had been vaccinated back into the country without doing two weeks in managed isolation.
Nash wasn't able to give a date, but he said it would happen "at some point", even if not all Kiwis had been vaccinated,
“What we’re having at the moment is a sort of 95 per cent efficacy - I’m not too sure what that exactly means in terms of people coming in bringing Covid,” he said.
“We do have to take a risk-based approach.”
Nash wasn’t sure when that point in time would be as processes, like a system for tourists to prove they had been vaccinated, needed to be worked out.
“I want tourists as much as anyone … I know that the tourist sector in New Zealand - or certain segments of the tourist sector - are doing it really, really tough at the moment," Nash said.
“I know they will continue doing it tough until those borders are open and we can get international tourists back in here.”
Nash said he didn’t have an update on when Australians would be able to enter New Zealand without having to enter managed isolation.
“It’s not as if there aren't conversations going on, but at this point in time, I can’t give you a date for when those borders are going to open with Australia or when there’s going to be a bubble with Australia,” he said.
“It is something we want. But, we will not do this until we are very clear we are not creating undue risk for New Zealand people or the New Zealand economy.”
He said he didn’t know, either, if tourists could be let in by March to watch the America’s Cup.
“There is a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of process to put in place.”
As for further funding targeted at the struggling tourism sector, he said he would be speaking with Finance Minister Grant Robertson about what Budget 2021 could offer them.
“We haven’t got an unlimited pot of money. But, I am also aware that we need to ensure that our iconic tourist infrastructure is ready to go when the borders are ready to open.”
Epidemiologist-turned-Cabinet Minister Ayesha Verrall told Q+A vaccine rollouts and trials around the world were looking “really encouraging”.
But, the Associate Health Minister said there weren’t yet large-scale studies that conclusively proved someone who received a vaccine couldn’t transmit the virus.
The results of those studies would be one of the factors the Government considers when deciding whether to allow international tourists back in, Verrall said.
“As soon as you see those big rollouts in North America and in Europe/UK, there will start to be a signal."
But, it was “normally the case” that people didn’t transmit diseases after being inoculated against it, she added.
Economists predict hard times ahead for tourist sector
While the borders remain shut to international tourists, economists are warning the tourism sector will struggle through summer.
ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner said tourism businesses would struggle because “foreign tourists are bigger spenders than the Kiwi tourists”.
“From now on, a lot of firms are going to be bleeding cash. It’s just a race - how long can they hold on and when will we get a travel bubble with Australia,” she said.
“There will, unfortunately, be some firms that don’t make it.”
Economist Rodney Jones from Wigram Capital Advisors said the Government’s cautious response had worked for 2020.
“2020 was about shutting down … and chasing down the virus. 21 is about a modulated response,” he said.
“Different policies, much more dynamic, much more complex.”