Covid 19 coronavirus editorial: Our stepping stones towards long-haul flights

EDITORIAL:

The Government’s move to adopt a more risk assessment-based strategy for the border is another useful step away from the broad-brush rules used early in the pandemic.

New Zealand aims to reduce the number of infectious people arriving directly from India, Brazil, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea – recognising that particularly bad coronavirus outbreaks there warrant special measures.

That means allowing citizens to return but requiring permanent residents to take an indirect route home through quarantine elsewhere. Another major change is placing passengers in MIQ groupings based on time of arrival to reduce mixing.

This increasingly pragmatic approach is welcome. And as the country heads towards a point where – with vaccine protection – we can eventually manage outside contact, it needs to be matched with a public shift in attitudes.

A blanket wariness about all-things Covid has to be punctured so people can consider their own risk-management for when the virus is less of a threat but still hanging around.

The Prime Minister’s explanation last week about the Covid-19 infection of a border worker who was fully vaccinated was helpful messaging.

Jacinda Ardern said the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was “doing its job”. She added: “[It] means it is still possible to get Covid, but it won’t make you nearly as sick or likely to experience, potentially, some of the disastrous consequences we have seen overseas.”

To people who follow information about the coronavirus, that statement was not news. But plenty of others in the community are less focused on the details and what they mean.

Full vaccination makes Covid a low-risk rather than no-risk prospect. Real-world data shows infections after vaccination with the Pfizer/BioNTech shot are rare.

Vaccination should, as is happening in Britain, reduce symptoms of infection and overall infection rates if people do their bit for everyone and get a shot.

For people here hoping to head overseas beyond Australasia on holiday next year there will be a lot to consider, especially if it involves long-haul travel, which means more time in the air, and stopovers or transit.

A basic requirement would be the introduction of official rules allowing tourist travel for vaccinated people, perhaps with home isolation on return. It is hard to imagine return travel any less stringent than that for the next couple of years – some people flying in have been vaccinated overseas and are still going through MIQ.

Digital passes, airlines and cruises running “no-jab, no-joy” requirements to board, and insurance based on vaccination are likely to be part of it. A booster shot may be needed beforehand.

Would-be tourists firstly need to think of how to reduce the odds of infection. Get vaccinated, take and wear good-quality masks, avoid crowds and indoor events, remember to keep your distance, and spend a lot of time outdoors, especially when eating.

Secondly, there’s the decision on where to go. A single spot would be safer than passing through several countries. How well is the virus contained at the destination? Does the country have a high percentage of its population vaccinated? What’s the safest way of travelling around that country? Getting around by car, for instance, means less contact with strangers than some other modes of transport.

Thirdly, the route taken there and back. Travelling within the Asia-Pacific won’t require stopovers, but heading north could well do. Some areas of the world will be in major strife for a while. How will major airport hubs manage inter-connecting traffic? Which route would be the least risky?

Passengers will have a lot more to think about than their luggage.

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