Coronavirus: Winston Peters not keen on including China in Asia-Pacific COVID-19 'bubble'

Winston Peters is sceptical of forming an Asia-Pacific 'bubble' of countries that have successfully contained the virus behind COVID-19 if it included China.

Asian nations, many of whom learned from the SARS scare in 2003, have generally done much better than Western countries at stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2. 

While death tolls in nations like Italy, the UK, the US, and Spain are in the tens of thousands, China - where the virus originated - has only reported 4633 deaths, the most of any Asian nation.

Australia and New Zealand have bucked the trend for 'Western' nations, with only 93 and 19 deaths respectively - and the number of new cases being reported in each nation daily can be counted on your fingers.

It's raised the prospect of a trans-Tasman 'bubble', with travel between New Zealand and Australia allowed whilst both countries restrict entry to others

"I think what we all agree that is a situation we would all like to be in," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last week. 

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters told Newshub Nation on Saturday officials from both nations are working towards that "situation". 

"Because we are doing so well against COVID-19, it's possible for us to... have a shared border in the event of us making sure our border security is first-rate in both countries... We are working on it at this point in time to see what can be done as soon as possible to reopen our markets. After all, for so many of our business people, particularly small business, Australia is a big market for New Zealand, and vice versa for Australia. 

"When it comes to tourism, 55 percent of tourists coming to New Zealand have been Australian, and we're Australia's second-biggest [source of tourists]. 

"So you can see the mutuality of opening up this economic lifeline together as fast as possible."

As for opening it up to more nations, he was open to smaller nations that have quashed the spread of the disease.

"South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore - they're definitely possibilities. But it's all down to some serious preparatory work so that we are sure every population involved in this arrangement [has] the utmost standards of safety."

Thailand - population 70 million - has reported fewer than 3000 cases and only 54 deaths. Peters didn't mention neighbouring Vietnam, which has 95 million people and no reported deaths. 

Newshub Nation host Simon Shepherd asked if China, our biggest trading partner, and source of many tourists, could be included. Only a handful of new cases are reported each day by the world's most populous nation, despite being the source of the virus. 

"It's a very big reach to conceive of that being possible at this point in time, given that this COVID-19 came out of China," said Peters. "I do not think that we are capable at this point in time, given our size, of contemplating such an arrangement with any assurity at all," he said.

Shepherd asked the Deputy Prime Minister if he was casting doubt on China's official numbers, which have been queried by US President Donald Trump and some health experts.

"In my modelling, the minimum number of cases in China has to be 300,000 people, with a minimum 30,000 dead," Giresh Kanji of the University of Auckland told The AM Show in early April. 

Peters said he wasn't disputing China's official numbers - just being careful.

"I'm not saying that, except I do note that not so long ago they did double their numbers with respect to Wuhan itself - not double, they raised it by 50 percent. It's not about not trusting their numbers - our job is to ensure that we've done everything we possibly can to protect the health of the New Zealand people."