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Kate Hawkesby: Praise from WHO is lovely but what of the borders?

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We got a high five yesterday from the World Health Organisation for our handling of the Covid-19 response.

Us, alongside other countries such as Cambodia, Rwanda, Thailand, Vietnam and islands in the Pacific and Caribbean.

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But the praise lavished on us came with a caveat: we need to be realistic about our borders. We can't keep them shut forever.

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Our stringent measures have shut us off from the rest of the world, which may well feel cushy while we're sitting here watching cases spike in other places. But it's not viable.
Not economically, not realistically, it's just not workable.

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WHO's executive director of the health emergencies programme, Dr Michael Ryan, said this week that "international travel bans aren't sustainable in the long term". He said it was "almost impossible for individual countries to keep their borders shut for the foreseeable future, economies have to open up, people have to work, trade has to resume".

So given that, what are we doing?

Well not as much as we should be. We need to be doing a hell of a lot more. And potentially at a quicker pace than we are.

Remember the trio of Sir Peter Gluckman, Helen Clark and Rob Fyfe back in early July singing from the same songsheet that we needed to have a strategy in place to gradually open the borders?

Sir Peter said we cannot keep the borders closed indefinitely and we need to actively be working towards opening them. Our former prime minister and the former Air NZ chief agreed, saying the Government needed a "swift pivot" to move beyond elimination as a strategy - to look to low risk countries getting access for a start.

NEW ZEALAND 29 Jul, 2020 1:39pm 5 minutes to read

So, accepting there'll be human failures and that no border is foolproof, we also need to understand our risk is very low. If our border is tight, our ability to contain it and to trace any cases, will protect us.

We can't stay in total isolation just waiting for a vaccine.

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The Government has tended to dodge giving any hard and fast answers on when and how the borders may open back up.

But businesses need a plan; the international student sector including universities need a plan; the travel and tourism sector needs a plan. We can't fly blind. Even a gradual roll out plan would help.

Kate Hawkesby. Photo / Michael Craig Kate Hawkesby. Photo / Michael Craig

Health Minister Chris Hipkins has talked about being cautious. Understandably the Government doesn't want to squander our gains. What we need however is some light at the end of the tunnel. We need to know there is a plan and a strategy in place that's actively being worked on to open us back up for business. That we haven't just shut up shop to sit around waiting for a vaccine.

Gluckman, Clark and Fyfe have been pushing for it, the WHO also now says we need to do it. Let's hope the Government is listening.

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