COVID-19: Public health experts say ongoing vigilance crucial as travel resumes

Public health experts say despite hitting the coveted zero active cases mark, ongoing vigilance will be crucial.

And that goes for both creating travel bubbles, and just travelling in public in general.

The high-vis on the backs of a handful of officials is pretty much the only sight of activity at Auckland Airport.

No check-ins, no queues, no rush and nothing concrete on a date to reopen to parts of Australia.

"We do need to act cautiously. New Zealand is currently ahead of Australia in terms of our progress," says Prime Minister Jacinda Adern.

Australia has had five new cases in the past 24 hours. But parts of the Pacific are on the same page as us with no cases.

"We feel that we are part of NZ, we are New Zealanders and we are part of your domestic travel market," Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna told Newshub.

Even parts of Asia are being touted as safer bets; they too are on the way to elimination.

"More and more countries across East Asia. Taiwan has succeeded. South Korea is going in that same direction," University of Otago Professor Michael Baker says.

But with no international travel on the cards just yet it's domestic flights that we're being told to focus on.

Jetstar announced on Monday it's returning from July 1 - promising airfares as low as $21.

Significantly, and against Government advice, they'll provide masks to customers, something experts say is welcome and should be mandatory on all public transport.

"Absolutely the Government should be thinking about this. In fact, I would go further and say we need to be thinking about this very, very urgently," says Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, senior research fellow at the University of Otago, Wellington's department of public health.

She says that's because amid all the level 1 no-cases hype, caution is required.

"Unfortunately from an epidemiological point of view, it's just not very significant news," she says.

She says that's because the Ministry of Health's (MoH's) data remains too vague.

"The classifications that the MoH is using with active and recovered cases doesn't tell us anything about who is infectious or anything about viral transmission in this country."

And out of level 1 comes with another health warning from psychologists, as the economic reality of layoffs and salary cuts take effect.

"I would call it a slow wave that we might see in mental health rates really associated with depression and anxiety because of the social and economic consequences of COVID," says Dr Dougal Sutherland, clinical psychologist at the Victoria University of Wellington and Umbrella Health.

And that's the predicament we find ourselves in. We've beaten the virus but our economy can't fully recover until we open the borders.

And that's risky business.

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