Coronavirus: Business leader proposes 'proof of concept' flight between Wellington and Canberra

The business community is out of patience waiting for restrictions to be lifted, especially after thousands of people flouted the rules to attend a protest earlier this week.

The Government is expected to announce on Monday when we'll shift from alert level 2 to level 1, after nearly two weeks without a new case of COVID-19 being detected in New Zealand. 

It's presently against the rules to gather in groups larger than 100, with or without social distancing - but that didn't stop thousands filling the Auckland CBD on Monday to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters in the US. 

"I think it's sad when you look back... at the crowds outside Burger [Fuel] or McDonald's, and the PM said at that time 'if that happens again, we'll shut you down' - they were going to shut businesses down," Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett told The AM Show on Thursday.

"But 4000 people come into the streets on the weekend and we did nothing? It may well be an operational matter [for police] but I've got food processing places and manufacturing who are sticking to the rules, I've got restaurants and bars." 

Police chose not to intervene, not wanting to cause "tension in an otherwise peaceful protest" sparked by the brutality shown by their US counterparts against the black community. They've also decided not to prosecute the organisers, despite Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters' call for "consequences". 

Barnett doesn't blame the protesters, saying they too have "had enough" of the restrictions.

"What we saw on the weekend was an intolerance from people who've been abiding by the rules, they've been listening to the reports and they've been doing what they're told. I think they've had enough."

Michael Barnett.
Michael Barnett. Photo credit: The AM Show

The borders will remain shut to most even at alert level 1, with pandemic still growing in speed across the world. Australia is one of few countries that has its local outbreak under control, with just a handful of new cases a day. 

It's hoped a trans-Tasman bubble could open soon, and the Auckland Chamber of Commerce has a plan it's going to put in front of both New Zealand and Australian officials on Thursday. 

On July 1, it wants a flight between Wellington and Canberra as a "symbolic opening of travel" between the two nations.

"Wellington-Canberra, sister cities, capital cities, start the flights there, test them, test the behaviours, look at how we need to behave and need to act, and then step up," said Barnett. "Once we start there and we can prove our concepts, then we can get back to doing business."

But despite his push for a return to a localised normality as soon as possible, Barnett says travel between countries will take a bit longer to implement. Under his plan, flights between New Zealand and Australia will be limited to Wellington-Canberra for a few weeks at first while the wrinkles are ironed out, before opening it up to other destinations. 

"It's really a proof of concept. I believe if you can do this, you're going to give hope to the tourism sector, you're going to give hope to all of the businesses that feed off that tourism sector, plus we need to remember Australia is a very big business partner - it's $3 billion a year of tourism, $15 billion a year of business."

Air New Zealand told Newshub it wouldn't fly until the "Tasman borders are open, and only with the support of governments on both sides".

"We appreciate that both businesses and travellers are enthusiastic about operations - and we assure customers that as soon as it is possible to operate, Air New Zealand will be ready to return to the Tasman," a spokesperson said.