Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran has said countries must learn to live with COVID-19 because it can’t be eradicated, in comments that contradict the country’s early strategy.
“Elimination, which is a worthy thing to go after, is probably not sustainable based on what we’re now learning, which is the vaccine is not going to be 100 per cent effective, not everybody is going to take it, and it’s going to take years to get distributed,” he said.
His words come just days after the airline was able to resume filling the middle seat after a resurgence in COVID-19 caused Auckland to re-enter lockdown.
In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Foran said the answer is “a degree of moderation and those countries – and cities in the case of Australia – that work through that probably end up in a better position”.
“In America, they’ve recently done a survey and only half the people said they’ll take the vaccine,” he added. “And then, of course, we have reinfection rates.”
The 59-year-old former Woolworths and Walmart executive, who only took up the role on 3 February, also said he thought it was unlikely a so-called trans-Tasman bubble would start this year.
“I certainly do not believe we will see anything across the Tasman this calendar year,” said Foran. “It’s hard to believe it would be before March next year and could well be longer. If it comes back quicker, we’re going to pop some champagne.”
In August, Australian Aviation reported comments by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirming plans for a trans-Tasman bubble had been “put on the backburner” due to Victoria’s second wave.
She also indicated that Australia would need to be free of unknown locally acquired cases – so-called community transmission – for at least 28 days before travel could begin.
Her words marked a turnaround from June, when the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, argued flights between the two countries should restart even if some Australian states were closed.
Air New Zealand itself has only just resumed operating the majority of its domestic network after a resurgence in COVID-19 caused Auckland to re-enter lockdown in August.
When restrictions were lifted for the second time, Air New Zealand launched a flash sale to fill previously unoccupied middle seats suddenly made available again for booking, with 70,000 snapped up in just six hours.
Passengers are, however, still being asked to wear masks on all flights.