OPINION: ‘We need a roadmap to open up our borders’

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Nowhere is the need for New Zealand to look beyond its own borders greater than in Queenstown.

The Delta variant has been a game-changer, but now, as the country’s vaccination rollout
gathers real momentum, is the time to look to the future.

NZ needs a roadmap back to normality and prosperity, and there are few regions that need
this kind of leadership from the government more than Queenstown.

The key to providing a path way to the future’s having a plan to help us get there.

The framework’s relatively straightforward — we need to support individuals and local
businesses, while NZ strengthens its defences against Covid through vaccination and increased healthcare capacity.

As vaccination rates rise, each move upward should be indexed to a sensible easing of restrictions that both keeps NZ safe, and takes the immense pressure off regions like Queenstown.

Countries around the world have been reopening their borders and reducing restrictions on
the back of successful vaccination rollouts.

The government needs to plan for this, too, and share that plan to provide some certainty so people can map out their own future.

No one will criticise the government for needing to amend the plan as inevitable curveballs
are thrown by the pandemic, but it’s crucial they provide some clear planning.

For instance, Croatia has seen a return this year to tourism levels that are close to those they saw in 2019.

It’s also one of the EU countries thinking about what sustainable tourism will look like
in the future, and has been engaged in some interesting thinking around attracting digital nomads, who they see as a new opportunity for the development of sustainable year-round tourism, focused on achieving a better financial result with less physical traffic.

They’ve noted predictions that as many as 1 billion people will be working from home by 2035.

Croatia is using the kind of innovation NZ is known for but hasn’t yet been applied by our
government, which has been forced into making reactionary decisions due to insufficient forward planning.

Portugal and Denmark have both removed most of their restrictions, and offer the government other examples which could help shape a vision for NZ’s future.

Cabinet ministers would do well to learn from those countries who have achieved success, while bearing in mind flexibility will be required as the pandemic no doubt offers more surprises.

One area showing signs of promise is the government’s announcement to trial self-isolation for people needing to travel overseas for work, provided they have been double-vaccinated and have a Covid-safe home isolation plan.

That kind of sensible and practical thinking’s to be encouraged, and the government would do well to draw on the immense pool of talent in NZ more than willing to offer their ingenuity, creative problem-solving skills and assistance.

The survival of small- to medium-sized businesses in tourist towns like ours truly need support and a roadmap for the future.

That means directly addressing the pressures of shutting down in Level 4 and operating
below capacity in Levels 2 and 3.

Another part of NZ’s planning needs to address the gaps in our health system.

This pandemic has shown us how important the resourcing of our health sector is.

The government might be focused on reshaping the health system from a structural point of view, but what Queenstown Lakes/Central Otago needs is a properly-resourced hospital.

That would address the needs which the pandemic has thrown into sharp relief, and future-
proof the health requirements of one of the fastest-growing regions in the country.

Joseph Mooney is Southland’s MP