Coronavirus: 'Makes sense' to keep travel bubble with NSW, Qld on pause - expert

An expert in disease transmission is backing the Government's latest moves on the trans-Tasman bubble, including a new requirement for pre-departure tests.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on Monday said quarantine-free travel with Western Australia and Northern Territory would resume from 11:59pm on July 9. The bubble with Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania opened that morning, but it remains closed to New South Wales and Queensland, where there have been recent community cases of the virus which has killed more than 4 million people.

Michael Plank, a mathematical modelling expert from the University of Canterbury and Te Pūnaha Matatini, said keeping the border shut to most people from NSW and Queensland is the right thing to do for now.

"It's clear the outbreak in NSW is quite a significant outbreak. Although we can feel confident they will eventually bring it under control, at the present time they are obviously still experiencing a significant number of new community cases. It absolutely makes sense to take a cautious approach and continue the pause with New South Wales."

Despite a two-week lockdown in Sydney the number of cases each day has stubbornly refused to come down. It's looking increasingly likely the lockdown will be extended, with a few dozen new cases every day, not all of them in people already in isolation.

There have been a number of incidents where people have broken the rules, resulting in new cases, frustrating state Premier Gladys Berejiklian

"I know everybody is keen to know what is going to happen beyond Friday’s lockdown, as am I, but what I can tell you with certainty is that the next couple of days will be absolutely critical in allowing our health experts to collate the data that we’ve had in the last week and then to present their advice to government," she said on Monday.

"I can say that the lockdown certainly has been effective in not doubling and tripling the figures that we were worried about. It has given our contact tracers the ability to maintain control over the virus but what it has foreshadowed is that unfortunately when a small number of people do the wrong thing it does result in extra cases."

Dr Plank said it's a wake-up call for Kiwis keen to have the border opened up. 

"We've seen with the emergence of the new Delta variant how infectious it is and how quickly it can take off in a population like Australia's or New Zealand's, where we still have relatively low vaccination rates. Until we can get those vaccination rates much higher, we are still vulnerable to COVID. The virus hasn't gone away. We just need to remain cautious around border controls and international travel."

Michael Plank.
Michael Plank. Photo credit: Supplied

A new requirement for people travelling from Australia to New Zealand is a negative pre-departure test. Dr Plank said this is also a good idea, at least for now. 

"For people coming from Australia, I think it makes sense to bring in the pre-departure testing requirement if there's any hint of community transmission in that state, which is what we've seen now. Whether you need that all the time, if we got to a situation where there was no community transmission in Australia again for a period of time, you may be able to do away with that requirement. 

"But I think it makes sense to have that at a time like we have at the moment where there are community outbreaks going on." 

The efficacy of the vaccines is being proven in the UK. Despite a rapidly growing caseload - just as steep as the rise before the massive wave over the new year - the number of deaths has been minimal. 

The last time the UK was recording 20,000-plus daily cases, more than 500 were dying every day - the latest figure was nine