- NZ borders would remain closed until a majority of the population has been immunised.
- Dr Ashley Bloomfield is confident that vaccine delays experienced in the EU will not affect delivery of the NZ vaccine.
- NZ immunisation program is expected to be implemented smoothly.
- Travel bubbles with close neighbours are possible as long as community cases within participating countries are controlled.
The uncertainty surrounding the rollout of the Coronavirus vaccine has prompted the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to warn that the New Zealand border will likely remain as is for the rest of 2021.
Currently, the border is closed to all non-NZ citizens, with an exception for some foreign nationals with NZ-based partners or family.
After the majority of the NZ population is vaccinated, Ardern is confident that the border controls can be partially relaxed to allow foreign nationals to enter NZ. The risk of the virus causing a public health crisis will be greatly reduced at this time.
For international travel to completely return to normal, the vaccination of the NZ populous will have to coincide with the vaccination of the global population. Vaccination programs around the world will have to be successfully implemented for New Zealanders to begin travelling overseas without posing a risk to the unvaccinated in other countries.
Travel restrictions applying to those who are unvaccinated, whether NZ travellers or international visitors, has not yet been remarked upon by the government. The Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand executive director Justin Tighe-Umbers has noted that Airlines are likely to implement their own restrictions and requires passengers to prove that they have been vaccinated before boarding international flights.
Vaccine delays in the EU
Issues affecting the production of the Pfizer vaccine has caused delays in the rollout of the European Union’s immunisation program. As the vaccine is produced in the EU, authorities have warned that export of the vaccine may be denied if supply shortages continue to hamper their program.
The Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield spoke this (27 January) morning and appeared confident that the Pfizer vaccine being prepared for NZ is on track to be delivered in March. If an unlikely delay were to occur, Dr Bloomfield noted that back-up vaccines are currently being assessed by Medsafe for approval alongside the Pfizer vaccine and could fill any shortage.
Planning for vaccine distribution in NZ has been going on for months and rollout is expected to be a smooth operation. An extra 1200 individuals have been recruited to administer the vaccine alongside medical professionals.
Travel bubbles still on the table
In the meantime, as long as community cases of the virus remain subdued, the government will consider travel bubbles with a few close countries such as Australia and Pacific nations. The travel bubble organised between NZ and Australia was revoked last week when one community case was identified in Northland. The NZ government is attempting to have the bubble reinstated as the case appears to be under control.