New Zealand, Australia must 'come to their senses' and end COVID-19 lockdowns - Flight Centre CEO

Flight Centre's Australian founder and chief executive Graham Turner has lashed out again over New Zealand's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting only "authoritarian regimes" will impose lockdowns in the future.

On Wednesday, Turner co-wrote an opinion piece in The Australian with Adam Schwab, the chief executive of Luxury Escapes.

Their article criticises governments around the world for carrying out "aggressive non-pharmaceutical interventions, specifically lockdowns, as their weapon of choice against the COVID-19 virus".

"Wide, hard lockdowns soon will become a thing of the past," Turner and Schwab said, pointing to Denmark and Germany as they begin to lift restrictions despite Delta cases remaining at around 1000 per day, the same as New South Wales.

"While most of the world has come to its senses, Australia and New Zealand are not quite there yet."

The article claims lockdowns would only be used by "authoritarian regimes" in future pandemics, "because it strengthens their control over the population".

The duo said the second-order effects of trying to save "some lives" are enormous. Without citing statistics, they pointed to negative impacts on domestic violence, mental health, education, loss of basic freedoms and the economy.

While Turner and Schwab described recent anti-lockdown protests as "foolish", they claimed freedom of action had been destroyed and labelled images of police pepper spraying protesters as "chilling".

David Coombes, Managing Director, Flight Centre NZ appears to be distancing himself from Turner and Schwab's comments, but says our vaccination rates are low compared to other counties.

"We know lockdowns have been extremely hard on the New Zealand public, and of course, the travel industry is not the only sector being heavily impacted, but we understand the importance of lockdowns in curbing the current and past outbreaks of COVID-19," Coombes said. 

"New Zealand needs to continue to strive towards a vaccination rate where lockdowns are no longer necessary to combat the virus. Comparatively to other OECD countries, our vaccination rates in NZ and Australia are low. It is vital that we increase these rates to get to a place by Christmas this year where lockdowns no longer happen, and we are living safely with COVID in the community, a future that is laid out in the Government's 'Reconnecting New Zealanders to the world' plan."

In May, while visiting New Zealand, Turner made headlines by telling The AM Show "the odd person" will die so international travel could ramp up, but we should focus on the "positive things" instead of their deaths.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic had been "far worse than anyone expected, particularly in this part of the world", but eventually "people will catch it just like the flu".