The New Zealand government has tempered hopes for overseas travel, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern using her first post-Cabinet press conference to announce that Covid-19 would have long-lasting effects at our country's border.
"Given the risks in the world around us and uncertainty about the global rollout of the vaccine, we can expect our borders to be impacted for much of this year."
Using the conference to announce the roll out of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of March, the PM signalled the return to normalcy would be a slow process.
Part of this is due to the fragility of travel arrangements with our closest neighbours.
Ardern said the recent Northland community case was "obviously unwelcome". However the Australian response to close the one-way travel bubble on Monday had taken New Zealand by surprise.
The 72-hour closure of the trans-Tasman air route is being reviewed, but the PM said it was "Australia's decision as to how they manage their borders."
On Tuesday, Cook Islands prime minister Mark Brown said that flights between Rarotonga and Auckland would be for cargo only and passengers would not be allowed to travel. Brown said that the route would be closed for the next 48 hours, depending on community testing around the Northland case.
Before the New Year safe-travel corridors with New Zealand's closest neighbours including the Cook Islands was on track to be delivered in Q1 of 2021. However the shifting goalposts and fragile agreements have led to calls for travellers to manage expectations for overseas travel this year.
There are two beacons of hope for what New Zealand sees as "safer" destinations with which they can negotiate travel routes. While an Australia-wide travel bubble is looking increasingly difficult, Brisbane and Perth have emerged as the most stable options for a region-by-region approach.
Arden praised the regions' performance, saying "there are states that are demonstrating a very similar approach to Covid-19 that New Zealand is, and I would say Queensland is one; Western Australia, obviously, very stringent as well."
With no community cases in Perth for well over 200 days from 17000 tests a week, Western Australia has a clearer record of transmission than New Zealand.
The emergence of new, more virulent strains of Covid-19 has caused many countries to revise policies on International travel. In the United States, the freshly minted Biden administration has reviewed international travel orders – with the CDC requiring negative tests from any arriving passengers from today. The United Kingdom has proposed imposing hotel quarantines, having recently passed the harrowing milestone of 100,000 coronavirus deaths.
The New Zealand government has admitted that travel outside current travel bubbles is simply out of the question.
"We will continue to pursue travel bubbles with Australia and the Pacific, but the rest of the world simply poses too greater risk for our health and our economy," said Ardern.