Desperate for trans-Tasman bubble: “I missed dad’s death”
A TRANS-TASMAN travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia is expected to be open in the first quarter of 2021 - but 50,000 Gold Coast Kiwis and reliant tourism operators are pleading for it to be sooner.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that it was her government's intention to name a date for reopening in the New Year. The opening itself could be as late as March 21.
A quarantine-free bubble would be conditional on coronavirus case levels staying low and pending approval by the federal government.
Previously, the Kiwi government had been concerned about whether Australian authorities could manage local outbreaks and lockdown COVID hot spots.
"We've never been wanting to put specific dates prematurely before we've made final decisions because people make plans, people book flights, and people may potentially have quarantine bookings that they could cancel," Ms Ardern said.
However, some Coast tourism operators and ex-pat Kiwis say to wait another 12 weeks before the border opened would be extremely tough on business and families.
The annual Kiwi tourism market was worth more than $30 million to the Gold Coast economy pre-COVID, and about $200 million to the entire state, second only to China.
Duffy Down Under Boat Hire owners Gordon and Nitsa Kerr hoped the border would be reopened for the end of January.
"It's the shot in the arm we need so I hope it kicks off sooner rather than later," Mr Kerr said. "Considering our good track record in Queensland I hope (Ms Ardern) opens well before the end of March, which is a date I've heard thrown around," he said.
Greater Southern Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce president Hilary Jacobs said: "It's going to be welcome whenever it comes but there's a lot of people on the Gold Coast that are from New Zealand originally and they'd like to see their family and friends.
"I'm sure a lot of the tourism operators will be disappointed they're going to miss December and January, pretty much the whole of summer."
Coomera MP Michael Crandon said he was disappointed by the long wait but declined to comment on the reason behind a possible mid-March date.
"It just does seem to be a long time down the track given how well Australia is doing in those stakes," he said.
Gold Coast Airport chief operating officer Marion Charlton said news was positive for the tourism industry and friends and families living in both destinations.
"About 500,000 people were travelling between the Gold Coast and New Zealand each year pre-COVID-19 and 60,000 New Zealanders live here, so there will be plenty of people looking to travel in both directions," she said.
"We hope the Australian and New Zealand governments can finalise an agreement on opening two-way, quarantine-free travel as soon as possible."
Gold Coast woman Aliesha Bell said she wanted to get back to New Zealand to support her grieving mother.
"I missed my dad's death during this time. In the real world I would have been there at the hospital that night but the option wasn't available to me," she said.
"We are grateful for technology but we can't get to my dear mum who is dealing with my dad's sudden death all on her own."
Kim Austen said the quarantine places were booked up until the end of February. So while it's great the Queensland border is open, Kiwis coming here to visit family for Christmas aren't going to be able to unless they plan on staying here until March.
Pacific Pines mother Julie Cooper said her dad couldn't travel and she was desperate to fly home to see her family to show off her son, but until New Zealand opened its borders it was financially out of reach to quarantine in New Zealand.
Aquaduck general manager Sarah Colgate said having New Zealand customers "would be amazing", but that opening international borders were "a whole other matter" and needed to be planned out thoughtfully. "It would be better to have the border opened permanently rather than stop-start stop-start," she said.
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said New Zealand was a "huge part" of Australian tourism and getting people moving in a COVID-safe would provide an economic lift and save thousands of jobs.
COAST KIWIS' HEARTACHE TO CONTINUE … December 11
Kiwis who've had their wings clipped can finally return to Queensland from December 12 - but a costly hotel quarantine upon their return means it's unlikely they'll flock to the state.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's border announcement was cautiously received by New Zealanders on both sides of the ditch, with most agreeing it was a good first step but that until a trans-Tasman bubble existed they'd be staying put.
It's understood a quarantine-free travel bubble before Christmas is not being considered by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and was unlikely to be implemented before February.
It's another blow for Gold Coast Kiwis, who've been unable to fly home to attend funerals or visit terminally-ill family members without quarantining upon arrival, despite the state being COVID-free.
First-time mum Julie Cooper said her mother missed out on the birth of her son Kohan Knox in August this year and that being separated from her family was "heartbreaking".
"New Zealand has never felt so far away, Jacinda has said maybe February, but who knows. I have given up holding my breath as it's so gut-wrenching when it changes," she said.
"My son hasn't meet his grandparents, aunts and uncles on both sides of his family.
"He was born on the 20th in 2020 and is my nana's 20th great grandchild so she also can't wait to meet him.
"Some parents are like no screen time for babies, well my son has been a FaceTime baby from just hours old."
The Pacific Pines woman said she was desperate for a travel bubble and would be on the 'first plane' once New Zealand opened its border to Queensland.
She said a friend recently flew back to Queensland after being in New Zealand for six months, because he lost his job and had to share a plane with people from Europe trying to get back to Australia.
"They hadn't quarantined as were only in transit in New Zealand and were allowed to sit on a plane with all these COVID-free Kiwis to come to Queensland. It doesn't make sense."
Last week, Gold Coast Kiwi Bren Tyack found out her mother didn't have long to live but that she can't afford the $3000 to isolate upon arrival.
"I have the option of applying to isolate at home in New Zealand with mum, but it means no one can come in and she can't go anywhere which isn't going to work as she may end up in hospital at anytime or she has to get to doctors," she said.
Maree Rijff, whose granddaughter is leaving New Zealand next week to live on the Gold Coast, said she didn't understand why a trans-Tasman bubble was so hard to achieve.
"People are dying of broken hearts because they can't see their families," she said.
But it's not all gloom and doom, with Mermaid Beach's Gayleen Stevenson excited she'll soon be able to return home to see her partner and cat after nearly a year apart.
"My partner rang me just after it was announced and was super excited and I just like 'what, what, oh my god, are you serious?'"
"I'm not sure it's actually sunken in yet, so much has happened in the past year."
She travelled to New Zealand in February to visit her 93-year-old mother, who has no other family to care for her, and then got caught up in flight cancellations and border restrictions.
Despite the news, she has no intentions to "bail on mum before Christmas" and will aim to get home in early January.
"Yes, it's great news, but it's also a worry because what if something happens and then they change the rules and something happens with mum and I can't get back to New Zealand to see her," she said.
"I'm not going to miss living in limbo, it's been a very emotional time. Then again being stuck here was a blessing in disguise for mum, who has recently had surgery for cancer."
Originally published as Desperate cries for early trans-Tasman bubble: "I missed dad's death"