Coronavirus: Trans-Tasman bubble pause the 'right decision' but tourism operators still 'gutted'

A leading epidemiologist says the move to suspend the trans-Tasman travel bubble for eight weeks is the "right decision" but the country's tourism industry is still reeling from the pause.

The Government announced on Friday quarantine-free travel with Australia would be paused for eight weeks while authorities there battle to get its latest COVID-19 outbreak under control.

University of Otago professor Michael Baker says although there were alternatives to a complete pause of the bubble - such as halting travel with just some states - it was the "right decision on balance".

"You could see there were a number of factors leading up to this and the big one of course is that we're now learning more about the Delta variant, which is far more infectious and therefore it puts a huge strain - if you have an outbreak it's so much harder to contain it," Dr Baker told Newshub.

"That's because one case can infect a lot of cases very quickly and you get this explosive spread. And the contact tracing system that was good enough last year isn't good enough this year - you've just got to do things so much faster."

He said the travel bubble with Australia depends on the country having strong state borders, "but that actually isn't working".

"I think a whole lot of factors now have conspired really to say that we need Australia to have much better control of its outbreaks before we can resume quarantine-free travel with them."

Dr Baker said it could take between four and six weeks before the current outbreak is brought under control across the Tasman.

"Eight weeks to resume the green zone, I think is a pretty realistic timeline - unfortunately it is quite a long while.

"I'm confident Australia will eliminate the virus again and hopefully we can resume the green zone with them at some point after eight weeks."

Tourism industry 'gutted' but rolling with the punches'

Chris Roberts, chief executive of Tourism Industry Aotearoa, says the suspension of the bubble will "undoubtedly have an impact" on the sector.

However, because quarantine-free travel with some states had already been on pause, the latest suspension would have a "reasonably limited impact".

"The bubble was already suspended for over half of Australia's population and there are relatively few Australian visitors currently in New Zealand," he said.

"Of course Australians who were planning on coming to New Zealand in the next eight weeks, which will have included skiing holidays, will now have to cancel those plans - so it's a blow, another blow on top of previous disappointments, but it will have reasonably limited impact."

He said the ski industry would be the hardest hit by the pause.

"Any operator who had Australian bookings in the next eight weeks will be gutted because they're now having to cancel those bookings… but this is not the first setback for the New Zealand ski industry in the past 18 months, unfortunately we've had to get used to it and we're not taking anything for granted, [we're] rolling with the punches and just looking for things to get better in time."

Operators were now hoping domestic travellers would pick up some of the slack, he said.

"Our tourism operators will now be looking ahead until after this suspension and the big prize on the near horizon is the next set of school holidays in Australia, which start on the 18th of September. If this suspension works and the Australian authorities get their outbreaks under control then we can look forward to welcoming Australians back for those school holidays."