Jacinda Ardern warns against travel to Europe as Todd Muller calls for strategy on reopening border

With New Zealand now considered "safe" by the European Union, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is urging Kiwis against vacationing there - but National leader Todd Muller says New Zealand cannot remain closed forever. 

The European Union has drafted up a list of 14 nations which will be allowed into the bloc from July, the BBC reported on Monday. New Zealand would join Australia, Japan and Canada - but China and the US are excluded. 

It's a good sign of New Zealand's progress in combatting COVID-19, but raises new implications for the Government over its managed isolation facilities which are already at maximum capacity with upwards of 4000 people. 

Kiwis that travel to Europe will not have to spend time in isolation when they arrive, according to reports. But the Prime Minister confirmed New Zealand will not be returning the favour and that two weeks of quarantine upon return will remain. 

"Essentially, it changes nothing from New Zealand's perspective," she told reporters on Tuesday. "What it does mean is that New Zealanders will have the ability to enter without isolation requirements. But in New Zealand, our restrictions remain."

Ardern said she'd find it "surprising" if New Zealanders went on holiday to Europe, considering COVID-19 is still widespread there - particularly in the UK where more than 43,000 people have died from the virus.   

"I certainly haven't heard of New Zealanders considering holidays knowing they would have to have a two-week period in quarantine on return," she said. 

"What we are doing is getting advice for Kiwis who might be making a deliberate decision to leave without good reason or rationale picking up the cost of that on their return."

The minister in charge of managed isolation, Megan Woods, has already signalled the Government's intention to explore co-payment of the facilities with returnees. But there are legal implications since Kiwis have the right to return home. 

"I think we should move fairly quickly on that because we are seeing other borders opening up," Ardern said. "I do think we need to have those measures in place."

National leader Todd Muller says the Government needs to provide some clarity about when New Zealand could potentially open up to other countries. 

"We need to know when those standards will be in place so that New Zealanders have confidence to progressively and safely open the border and grow the economy," he said. "Locking down what's left of the economy and waiting for a vaccine isn't an option."

Muller said he doesn't think the border needs to be opened up anytime soon, but that the Government should provide a strategy and criteria for it. 

"I'm not saying in any way that this is short-term, but what I am saying is this thinking should be put in the public. We should be reflecting about that as New Zealanders and saying, how would that work?"

The Prime Minister had a blunt message for Kiwis considering travel to Europe: "Don't."

"Enjoy your own backyard. There are still risks with travel. This is a pandemic that is growing at an extraordinary rate and at the same time I don't think it's fair that for those decisions New Zealanders would pick up the cost."

She said Kiwis who choose to travel overseas should meet the full cost of that holiday. 

"The question ultimately is whether or not we can differentiate from someone who is choosing to leave versus someone who needs to return."

As for the prospect of a state-by-state trans-Tasman travel bubble, Ardern said it's up to Australia. 

"That would depend on the provisions around what those state borders look like," she said. "But as I've said, a lot of this sits with Australia and we'll keep the work going in between."

ASB's latest report on the impacts of COVID-19 on the New Zealand tourism sector says due to the loss of international tourism, GDP will be three to five percent lower than it would otherwise be.

But the switch towards domestic tourist experiences of New Zealanders will lessen the economic hit, it adds.