A health expert has questioned the decision to allow Kiwis to return home from most of Australia over the next week without having to go into managed isolation (MIQ).
The Government on Friday paused the trans-Tasman travel bubble for eight weeks, with outbreaks of the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 in Victoria and New South Wales (NSW). Kiwis arriving over the next seven days from other parts of Australia won't have to go into MIQ or self-isolate at home.
"It's inconsistent," Des Gorman, a professor of medicine at the University of Auckland, told Newshub Nation on Saturday. "I could understand the next week allowing people who have been vaccinated to come home, if they've had a negative pre-departure test, but this next week 'come home now' is really taking a punt."
NSW in particular has struggled, with 136 new confirmed cases reported on Friday - the most yet in the current outbreak, despite restrictions. Fourteen local cases were also reported in Victoria.
Dr Gorman has been sceptical about the travel bubble with Australia, in June questioning whether it was worth the risk, considering Australia's repeated trouble keeping the virus out.
He said the pause on travel was "probably the only response that was available to the Government" thanks to the speed - or lack thereof - of the vaccine rollout, and the threat posed by the Delta variant, which is more than twice as contagious as the original strain that spread across the world last year.
"It's understandable because we're not vaccinated, so as a result we're particularly vulnerable. We've struggled throughout to get contact tracing to the level where we need it to be. We tend to have surges of interest in being tested and then they die away."
Epidemiologist Michael Baker told Newshub that Delta is outpacing Australia's contact tracers. Use of the Tracer App here in New Zealand is low - usage spikes around reports of possible cases, such as when an infected Australian tourist visited Wellington in June, then falls away. The average number of scans each day over the past week has been about 600,000.
New Zealand currently has about 13 percent of its population fully vaccinated, and Australia 12 percent, according to Our World In Data. But more Australians have had their first jab, which offers some protection.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week apologised for the slow rollout, prompting calls for Jacinda Ardern to do the same. Dr Gorman isn't among them.
"I'm not interested in hearing the Prime Minister apologise," said Dr Gorman. "Tell us how it's going to be accelerated. Tell us how we go from this hermit colony to being part of the world again."
One way could be to give the vaccinated more travel freedoms.
"People who are vaccinated are less likely to get the disease, if they get it they're less likely to be sick, they're less likely to transmit it and they're less likely to mutate it."
Asked by host Simon Shepherd if this would create two classes of people, Dr Gorman said yes.
"There are two classes of citizens here - your vaccinated and your unvaccinated. That's just a simple biological reality. One's risk is here, one is here. That's simple biology."
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