Heather du Plessis-Allan: Why Aucklands border must go

OPINION:

Keeping Aucklanders locked in by a hard border in the run-up to Christmas seems impossible.

Clearly, Aucklanders won’t tolerate it. They reacted with fury to Chris Hipkins’ suggestion they would have to book time slots to cross the border over summer.

The Government obviously hadn’t expected that level of anger. They rushed to back down. The ninth floor made it known they were cross at Hipkins. He issued a mop-up press release promising Aucklanders they would be allowed to travel for Christmas.

The Government had better stick to it, or they’ll have hell to pay politically.

But summer travel and a hard border are not compatible.

It’s hard enough at the best of times to get out of Auckland by car at the start of any long holiday. Add in a police officer stopping every single car to check the vaccination certificate and negative test of every single occupant in the car and Aucklanders can envisage the chaos.

Hot cars, crying babies, barking dogs, commuters toileting next to open car doors.

It’ll be a disaster.

And then there’s the capacity to test that many people.

If every car has an average of two people in it, and the Prime Minister is accurate with her estimate that 30,000 cars cross that border every day (frankly it’ll be multiples of that over summer), then 60,000 Aucklanders will require negative tests every day to get out of the city. And they’ll need those results in 72 hours for them to be valid at the border.

The Health Ministry is barely coping with 12,000 tests a day in Auckland right now. An insider described the suggestion to me this week as “hilarious”.

And tests are non-negotiable. We all know the double-jabbed can carry Covid. That’s why the Government has made such a song and dance about forcing essential workers like truckies to get tested regularly.

They can hardly make a giant summer exception for the hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders released to all corners of the country at once.

The fact that we’re only seven weeks from Christmas and the Beehive has no solution tells you this is fraught.

They’ve been working on this behind the scenes virtually since lockdown started. That’s 11 weeks ago. The reason a solution to a hard border is eluding them is probably because there isn’t one.

Anything they do will be compromise or chaos. The only real workable option has to be to drop the border.

This is clearly a live consideration. Grant Robertson hinted strongly at it this week while trying to clean up after Hipkins. He made it seem very much that his preference was to move the country into the traffic light system before Christmas and in doing so remove regional boundaries.

This must be one of the hardest political calls this Government will have to make.

How do they let 1.7 million Aucklanders out of Covid-outbreak-city for summer, without infuriating 3.3 million non-Aucklanders at the thought that those holidayers are bringing Covid with them?

This pickle could’ve been avoided. Had the Government set a Freedom Day date by which we all needed to be jabbed or take our chances, everyone would’ve been mentally prepared for life with Covid, just like Aucklanders are.

If a hard border isn’t going to work then it needs to come down. If it needs to come down, they’d better get on with communicating that to people now so the reality sets in.

PM GOING TO AUCKLAND

It’s good to see the PM hinting she’ll be visiting Auckland this week. She should’ve made that call herself, without having to be shamed into it by the Opposition and media.

She owes Speaker Trevor Mallard a huge favour. He’s changed parliamentary rules so that she doesn’t have to isolate for five days after returning from Auckland. Mallard didn’t change the rules to help either Judith Collins or David Seymour travel home.

That’s exposed him to accusations of playing favourites with Ardern again. His logic is so obviously flawed. How can he possibly defend forcing MPs returning from Auckland into isolation when the city had only 20 daily cases, but then ditch the rule when the city has 126 daily cases?

Here’s hoping the trip is worth it and the PM gains some insights that put a stop to ridiculously tone-deaf suggestions from Wellington like requiring Aucklanders to book time slots to leave the city.

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