The trans-Tasman bubble faces its first major test after a border worker at Auckland Airport tested positive for COVID.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday the employee has a “very clear link at this stage to cases that are high-risk” because the person cleaned aircraft arriving from countries with large prevalence of the virus.
Significantly, authorities revealed the worker had been fully vaccinated early on, and was routinely tested, too.
Experts believe both the Oxford and Pfizer jabs reduce transmission of COVID, stopping the virus ‘leak out’. In February, AstraZeneca reported that its jab could reduce transmission by up to 67 per cent, while Pfizer has also claimed it would “significantly reduce” the chance of people passing it on.
PM Ardern also played down concerns that the case could cause the arrangement to be cancelled.
“When we opened, on both sides, we of course knew that we would continue to have cases connected to our border,” PM Ardern said. “In fact, when we announced the date for opening the trans-Tasman bubble, Queensland was dealing with cases.
“We accept that it’s going to be part of our journey together. I think Australia accepts that and for both sides, we’re always looking for clear connection to the border. In this case there is.”
When New Zealand announced it was starting quarantine-free travel, it said it was doing so under the guidance of what PM Ardern called “flyer beware”. In the event of a COVID cluster, the country will reserve the right to continue, pause or suspend the arrangement.
If a case was found that was clearly linked to a quarantine facility staff member and was well contained, travel will likely continue.
If a case was found that was not clearly linked, and a state responded by a short lockdown to identify more information, New Zealand would likely pause flights from that state in the same way as flights have been paused previously.
But if multiple cases occurred from an unknown origin, flights would likely be suspended for a set period of time.
The worry comes just a day after the bubble launched with Air New Zealand operating 30 flights, and Qantas and Jetstar 29.