Coronavirus: Travel bubble with Western Australia 'low risk', will likely reopen - experts

Experts expect the travel bubble with Western Australia to be lifted this week, with the outbreak of COVID-19 there appearing to be under control.

State capital Perth and the nearby Peel region - where most people in the state live - emerged from a brief three-day lockdown overnight, after two days without any new cases in the community. The restrictions were sparked by a traveller who tested positive five days after leaving managed isolation, likely catching the virus in the hotel. 

"The short three-day lockdown has done the job it was designed to do," state Premier Mark McGowan told reporters in Perth. "It was a circuit-breaker we needed to limit community spread and keep our community healthy."

The trans-Tasman travel bubble was instantly put on pause for the entire state, and a decision is expected Tuesday on whether it will unpause just as quickly with a flight scheduled to leave that evening, Stuff reported

"I think we'll see a resumption of the travel bubble sometime this week," University of Auckland disease modeller Shaun Hendy told The AM Show.

"It may not be immediate, but the Government may signal it will lift those restrictions sometime this week and travel will resume. That cluster does look to have been brought under control by the Australian authorities, so the risks are relatively low at this stage."

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Monday further advice from health officials will be looked at before a decision is made .

While low, there still is risk, says Dr Hendy - and that's why people aren't rushing to jump across the Tasman in the kinds of numbers airlines and tourism operators hoped for. Air New Zealand even cancelled some flights last week, with demand not quite being what they expected. 

"This latest cluster and the lockdown in Perth won't help that," said Dr Hendy. "It does show the risks you take when you travel across the Tasman - you may end up being stuck for several days or longer if there are cases. We're continuing to see clusters emerge from managed isolation and quarantine both in New Zealand and Australia, so the risks are still there." 

Des Gorman.
Des Gorman. Photo credit: The AM Show

University of Auckland professor of medicine Des Gorman says both New Zealand and Australia have been acting "quite erratically" when it comes to COVID-19. 

"We go into lockdowns with one or two cases, and rather than expeditiously sort out what the risks are, we jump into a lockdown situation then a few days later we come out of lockdown and you think, not a lot has changed... it's very hard to follow," he told Newshub.

He said it would be surprising if the travel bubble wasn't reopened, but questions whether it should have been shut over just a couple of cases in a state of 2.6 million people. 

"At some stage we really are going to have to accept we live with a certain level of risk, or we get our contact tracing capacity to the point that within a day of finding out about a particular case, we can find out if the risks are substantial or not... We've become so risk-averse and so concerned about any cases at all that we're now managing by quite draconian or drastic measures."