Live updates, April 19: ‘Significant step’ – Ardern hails launch of travel bubble

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for April 19, bringing you the latest news live from Auckland International Airport. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

To mark the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble, The Spinoff is casting an eye across the ditch all week – read our Australia Week content here

4.50pm: Two MIQ facilities to be closed for inspection as officials probe recent cases

Room for 900 returnees is being removed from the country’s managed isolation system as health officials scramble to figure out whether something needs to be fixed at two facilities.

It’s not clear when the facilities will reopen, including the largest hotel in the system, but they together represent about 15% of MIQ rooms. Officials are trying to determine whether ventilation systems have contributed to a series of recent Covid-19 transmissions.

The Grand Millennium and Grand Mercure will be emptied over the next seven days as returnees complete their time in MIQ. Both will remain empty until at least the end of the month, when a review of the ventilation systems is expected to be done.

Covid-19 was detected in a cleaner and two security guards at the Grand Millennium in recent weeks, while two returnees at the Grand Mercure tested positive and were genetically linked despite having no contact. Returnees at the Grand Mercure will now undergo an additional test.

A review at the Pullman hotel earlier this year had determined that air flow within the facility had likely spread cases of Covid-19. That review called for a complete overhaul of the ventilation system in the hotel, as well as significant changes to the elevators and the way air flow was managed.

“We have learned over recent months that, with the new variants of the virus, aerosol transmission is playing a greater role than was observed initially,” said Brigadier Jim Bliss, who is in charge of the facilities.

While the government said it will be able to cope with the two hotels “going offline for a period” because of rooms left open by the trans-Tasman bubble, it will be a blow for returnees coming from higher-risk areas outside of the South Pacific. Health officials are expected to announce next week how many of the low-risk MIQ rooms only suitable for Australian arrivals could be made available for arrivals from other countries.

– Justin Giovannetti

3.50pm: It could have been worse than Dobbyn

If you’ve been following the slow deterioration of my brain at the hands of Dave Dobbyn’s Welcome Home being performed non-stop for more than an hour, then enjoy this:

That’s it from me today. Farewell.

3.10pm: ‘Significant step’ – Ardern hails launch of travel bubble

The prime minister has hailed the launch of the trans-Tasman bubble as a major moment in New Zealand’s Covid-19 recovery.

Speaking at parliament, Ardern said today will mean a lot for people on a personal level as well as for businesses.

“The bubble marks a significant step in New Zealand’s reconnection with the world,” said Ardern. “According to Tourism New Zealand forecasting, welcoming Australians back could mean a billion dollar boost.”

Asked how far away we are from a Pacific bubble, Ardern said it’s all about being safe. “We don’t want to jeopardise the open movement and freedom we have in New Zealand with any of our arrangements.” A two-way Cook Islands bubble is still on track for May, Ardern said. “We haven’t even discussed the possibility of opening up to anywhere else,” she said.

As Cabinet was meeting this afternoon, Ardern said she could not be at Wellington Airport to welcome arrivals. “Don’t ruin the image I have in my mind, because I think something like a scene from Love Actually is probably how I anticipate it would look and how it would feel… and I imagine it’s pretty close to it,” she said.

3.05pm: Australian foreign minister to visit NZ after travel bubble opens

On the day of the trans-Tasman travel bubble launching, it’s been confirmed Australia’s foreign minister will visit the country.

Marise Payne will arrive in the country on Wednesday to meet with her counterpart Nanaia Mahuta. “Australia is New Zealand’s closest and most important international partner. I’m very pleased to be able to welcome Marise Payne to Aotearoa so soon after quarantine-free travel begins,” said Mahuta.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, as throughout our history, our countries have worked together extremely closely. This visit symbolises the success of our respective Covid-19 strategies as we take our first step to reconnect with the world.”

2.55pm: PM to speak on day one of travel bubble

I spoke too soon: the live performance of Welcome Home started up again shortly after the previous update and, as far as I know, will continue for the rest of time. A never-ending and continuously patriotic outburst for our returning citizens.

However, let’s move onto other business. Jacinda Ardern is about to speak on the first day of the travel bubble where she will also face questions on the government’s new border exemptions for separated migrant families.

Watch below:

1.30pm: Reunions continue as final arrivals enter airport

After a tight hour-long marathon rendition of Welcome Home, the soundtrack has changed and the new arrivals from flight JQ201 have slowed to a dribble.

There has been tears, laughter, applause, cheering, and the relentless flash of media photography.

Hugs at the airport

Hugs! (Photo / SSL)

Next up: Qantas flight QF151 from Melbourne.

Number of Australian arrivals: Like, a whole plane’s worth.

1.10pm: Arrivals keep coming – and so does the Dobbyn

“Keep it coming now,” say the lyrics to Welcome Home, as the song enters its 38th minute of live performance outside the arrivals area at Auckland International Airport.

There has been at least one audible “whoop”, several cheers, a few tears, and a smattering of applause from those reunited after months separated due to Covid-19. A swarm of people remain on the barrier holding signs for their loved ones.

“Whoop” (Photo / SSL)

Number of Australian arrivals: Maybe 25? I’ve lost count.

12.55pm: Welcome home! Families reunited as first Australian flight lands after bubble opening

We’re into the 25th minute of a constant performance of Dave Dobbyn’s Welcome Home as the first arrivals from Jetstar flight JQ201 step into the Auckland International Airport arrivals area.

For many here, it’s an emotional reunion after more than a year separated by border closures forced due to Covid-19.

Everyone who comes through the frosted gates of the arrivals area has been greeted with a round of applause, including a photographer who very clearly had not travelled from Australia.

Along with the rousing and possibly never-ending performance, arrivals have been met by a sea of cameras from journalists staked out to capture the moment.

Number of Australian arrivals: Five-ish (so far)

Arrivals at auckland airport

“I love you so much” (Photo / SSL)

12.25pm: First quarantine-free flight about to land in Auckland

Jetstar flight JQ201 is moments away from landing, with the first trans-Tasman travellers expected out in the terminal shortly after.

Following this, a Qantas flight from Melbourne is due in at about 1.36pm.

12.15pm: Jetstar makes controversial pavlova statement

An important update on the slightly unusual Jetstar display I photographed earlier. It was actually the beginning of a specially designed “pavlova plinth”.

Possibly a kind gesture to those arriving off an international flight. Also possibly: a controversial statement about the ownership of the pavlova. You decide. Could Dave Dobbyn jump out of the pav while singing Welcome Home? It’s too soon to say.

Number of Australian arrivals: Absolutely none

From Tourism NZ to the Superbowl: Special Group’s founder on the rapidly changing world of advertising

While you wait for all this afternoon’s trans-Tasman bubble coverage, a spot of light listening. In the latest episode of The Fold, Duncan Greive talks to Special Group founder and CEO Tony Bradbourne about the changing world of advertising, going global and making a Superbowl ad.

Subscribe and listen on Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast provider.

11.50am: Auckland Airport music update

I’ve done some *investigative journalism* and worked out that the Spotify playlist welcoming New Zealanders and Australians into the country today is this one: Kia Ora New Zealand. 

If you can’t make it down to the airport today but would like to imagine you’re here: Switch on your brightest lights, grab your nearest New Zealand or Australian flag, and rock out to Drax Project. If possible, wave a Jetstar-branded pom pom.

The music of the airport

Patriotism rating: 6/10

11.34am: T-minus one hour –  crowd grows ahead of first bubble flight arrival

We’re an hour away from the first quarantine-free flight from Australia touching down at Auckland International Airport. JQ201 is expected to arrive at 12.34pm – an hour after its original estimate arrival time.

The crowd of excited family members has grown. I’ve spotted one woman carrying a bunch of flowers, while another said she was waiting for her daughter who she hadn’t seen in 15 months.

Crowd at Auckland Airport grows

The crowd is growing (Photo / SSL)

Jetstar has also set up this slightly unusual display. I have no idea why.

Welcome home (Photo / SSL)

Number of Australian arrivals: Nil

11.30am: Review – another coffee at Auckland Airport

I thought I’d go check out the coffee cart outside the terminal, where I enjoyed a delicious Allpress brew and a chat with one of the lovely staff members. They told me today was the first day that their cart had opened since Covid-19, while a second coffee cart further down the terminal had been open since alert level three last year.

“It’s starting to look like an airport again… kinda,” the staffer told me, laughing. They said they are happy to have customers to serve again and said the airport had been so quiet over the past few months. They wondered whether all the airport staff that lost their jobs at the onset of Covid would be able to return to their posts.

But what about the coffee? Well, what can I say! It is going to keep me going for the next hour until flight JQ201 touches down in Auckland. Light and creamy and with delicious nutty overtones.

Coffee Rating: 10/10

[Image of the coffee is *redacted* due to the fact I may have forgotten my Keep Cup and got some angry/valid tweets earlier]

More Australia Week content: That time Chris Warner met Alf Stewart

It’s Australia Week all over The Spinoff, not just here in the humble live updates. Craving some more trans-Tasman content? How about the time Chris Warner met Alf Stewart? We remember the time two trans-Tasman soap immortals got together in the same room.

Here’s an extract:

It could be a vision of the end of the world: Alf Stewart and Chris Warner, two characters who between them have spent over 50 years watching their friends and loved ones die at the hands of deranged serial killers, deadly bomb blasts and killer viruses, together in a lonely hospital waiting room. One is a small-town bait shop owner from Summer Bay, Australia, the other a world-class surgeon from Ferndale, New Zealand. They are the sole survivors.

Ray Meagher (Alf) and Michael Galvin (Dr. Warner) are the only remaining cast members from the first episodes of their respective shows: Home and Away, which first aired in 1988, and Shortland Street, which began in 1992. With Meagher in Auckland to perform in Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical (he plays Bob, an outback mechanic) we wanted to get them together in the same room and film them talking about their characters’ unusually long (by soap standards) lives.

Alf Stewart rarely travels further afield than Yabby Creek. Now he was coming to Ferndale.

Read the full piece here

10.50am: First bubble flight lands in Sydney

The first flight to Australia under the new trans-Tasman bubble has landed in Sydney.

Air New Zealand flight NZ101 departed Auckland shortly before 7.30am this morning, landing across the ditch about 10 minutes ago.

Here in Auckland, we’re expecting the first quarantine-free flight to land just after 12.30pm. Jetstar flight JQ201 has been delayed after (according to some eavesdropping I did) problems with the airbridge along with passengers failing to present the required travel documents.

10.30am: Welcome Home to welcome home first bubble travellers

As if anyone could doubt it, the first batch of wary trans-Tasman arrivals will be greeted to a live rendition of Dave Dobbyn’s Welcome Home. There’s not a Dobbo in sight, but enjoy this exclusive photo from the sound check. Spoiler: it sounds beautiful.

Number of Australian arrivals: Still Zero

welcome home

Welcome home! (Photo / SSL)

10.15am: Latest from the arrival gate

Still no sign of any arrivals. In fact, the first flight – Jetstar flight JQ201 from Sydney – has been delayed until 12.33pm. Should I take the opportunity to make fun of Jetstar being late? Probably. Will I? No, this is an historic day!

Jetstar is definitely pulling out all the stops for the first arrivals this afternoon. I count at least seven large orange pom poms. There is also a laptop hooked up to some speakers blaring a playlist titled: Kia Ora New Zealand. So far it’s mainly been Benee.

In other words, it’s all go down here*, as you can see from the photos below.

Number of Australian arrivals: Zero

It’s all go! (Photo / Stewart Sowman-Lund)

*Most of the people you can see are other media or airport/airline staff.

Update: The flight’s ETA is now 12.34pm.

10.00am: New border exemption will reunite some migrant families

After months of pressure, some families separated as a result of Covid-19 border closures will be reunited, the government has announced.

A new border exception will be created to allow offshore visa applications for the families of health care workers in New Zealand, as well as a small “number of other highly-skilled workers” in other sectors who are currently in New Zealand.

The move follows months of criticism over the decision to keep borders tightly closed to family members of essential workers.

“We have introduced additional exceptions throughout the past year as circumstances permitted, and I’m pleased to announce today we are granting further exemptions that will allow hundreds more families to reunite,” immigration minister Kris Faafoi said in a statement.

A new border exception is also being created for the partners and dependent children of temporary visa holders in New Zealand,  who hold visas, but had not yet arrived here when the border closed. To be eligible for the new border exceptions, the family member currently in New Zealand must have more than 12 months remaining on their visa, Faafoi said.

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic, which requires strict border restrictions. But we have been mindful of the difficulties migrant workers and families have faced,” the minister said.

“In the past year, we have introduced exceptions that have allowed entry for around 13,000 family members of New Zealand citizens and residents and 1300 temporary work visa holders, and their families, who normally live here and were overseas when the borders closed. More than 2,500 family members of critical workers have also entered to date.”

Two weeks ago, a group of migrants took to the steps of parliament protesting against the strict border closures that were keeping their families apart.

“If you are the Queen of England, or if you are the president of the United States, or even if you are sweeping the grounds of the parliament, nobody wants to be left behind without their family,” protest organiser Justin Sobion told RNZ at the time.

Minister of broadcasting, dommunications and digital media Kris Faafoi (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

9.45am: Review – a coffee at Auckland Airport

It’s a hot desk situation at The Spinoff’s Auckland Airport bureau so I’ve been moving around the terminal’s extensive food court this morning.

Currently, as detailed in the 9.20am update, I’m perched at Oma Cafe on the left side of the food court. There’s not a lot to say about the coffee other than I really enjoyed it. I’m fairly sure Flight Coffee is a widely available brand but it’s the perfect choice for an airport cafe. I hope it was intentional.

I now feel very refreshed and invigorated and the sadness that I’m just at the airport for work and not actually going on holiday is just a distant feeling in the back of my brain.

Coffee Rating: 10/10

Flight coffee: how apt (Photo / Stewart Sowman-Lund)

9.20am: Airport cafe expecting rush as bubble opens

Paul from Oma Bakery and Cafe, in the international terminal foodcourt, said he’s “thrilled” to have customers returning to the airport this week.

Today alone the cafe is expecting as many departing passengers to pass through the terminal as have been at the airport all week. On some days over the past 12 months there have been just 50 passengers through the departure area all day, he said. To meet the increased demand, eight extra staff are working today.

Over the past year, there’s been just four – a chef and three table staff. “We’re nearly back to the full team… there’s not quite enough to open the bar but the beersies are in,” he said.

“We’re just thrilled to welcome people back… and they’re excited. Normally, we serve people in the morning and they’re grumpy but today everyone is happy.”

Over the past year, the food court has been so empty that most restaurants haven’t even been operating, he said. “It’s great to have McDonald’s open again… they just opened today,” he said.

Meanwhile, over at Tank Juice, one staff member told me they were also anticipating higher demand today. They said they’d been brought over from the domestic terminal Tank to deal with the predicted rush.

8.45am: Latest from Auckland International Airport

I’m here at Auckland International Airport ready to give a big welcome to returning New Zealanders and holiday-making Australians who will be celebrating the lack of mandatory quarantine.

Turns out though, the first flight from Australia doesn’t actually land until 11.45am… And it’s been delayed. So I’ve got a bit of time to kill.

This is the first time I’ve been in the international terminal since before Covid-19 and the vibe is noticeably different. There’s probably around 30 people mingling in the food court upstairs, with a handful of people downstairs near the departure area.

Earlier this morning, the first flights from Wellington and Auckland departed for Sydney – marking the official launch of the trans-Tasman bubble.

Number of Australian arrivals: Zero

A very empty international arrivals area (Photo / Stewart Sowman-Lund)

7.50am: ‘Milestone’ – Morrison and Ardern celebrate ‘win-win’ trans-Tasman bubble

G’day, good morning, hello. I’m heading off to Auckland International Airport this morning to celebrate the first plane-load of arrivals landing into a quarantine-free New Zealand.

To mark the start of the trans-Tasman bubble (which you can read more about here), The Spinoff is celebrating all things Australia with a week of Australia-themed content. We’ve called it: AUSTRALIA WEEK.

We’ll have more on that soon, but first: Jacinda Ardern and Australian PM Scott Morrison have released a joint statement celebrating the launch of the travel bubble.

“Today’s milestone is a win-win for Australians and New Zealanders, boosting our economies while keeping our people safe and just in time for ANZAC Day,” Morrison said. “Both countries have done a remarkable job in protecting our communities from Covid and two-way flights are an important step in our road out.”

Ardern added: “The bubble marks a significant step in both countries reconnection with the world and it’s one we should all take a moment to be very proud of.”

Meanwhile, speaking on RNZ this morning, Ardern confirmed plans were afoot for quarantine-free travel with the Cook Islands in May. However, no specific date has been set.

Ardern confirmed immigration minister Kris Faafoi will be making an announcement on migrant family reunification today. On how many of the estimated 5,000 migrants unable to bring family members into New Zealand would now be able to, Ardern told Morning Report the announcement would help “more than a few hundred”, but told the AM Show it would not “thousands and thousands”.

“We didn’t want to open up but not have the capacity in managed isolation. I think we’ve got the balance about right. What I will say is if anyone’s wanting to come home, now’s a good time – the pressure comes back on in that July to October period.”

We’ll have heaps more travel bubble content across The Spinoff today and throughout the week. I’ll check in soon from the check-in area of Auckland Airport.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

New Zealand is more open today than it has been at any time in the past twelve months, with the start of the trans-Tasman bubble. As such, it’s going to be a significant day for a lot of people, with thousands expected to cross from one country to the other. The first flight to take advantage of the bubble came in overnightAs Stuff’s Brook Sabin reports, it was a somewhat mysterious Qantas flight, believed to be purely to relocate a plane. Stewart Sowman-Lund has put together a great Q+A on all the rules of the bubble, and answered a range of questions about how it’ll work.

The economic implications of it are pretty massive, not to mention the many family reunions that will also take place. But we shouldn’t necessarily expect the changes to be seen immediately. Stuff reports Qantas and Jetstar will both be starting with a somewhat reduced trans-Tasman capacity in the opening weeks, with people perhaps a bit wary of being in the first cohort. Connor Stirling at One News had an interesting story last week about high levels of interest in trans-Tasman tourism not necessarily translating into bookings for operators yet. And after all, things can still go wrong, and as the government has warned plenty of times, people will be flying at their own risk.

Speaking of risk, there is plenty of political risk for the government. Politik (paywalled) has analysed the current mood of public opinion, with polls showing only around half of New Zealanders are into the idea of a bubble. What Politik author Richard Harman calls “xenophobia” from the public is manifesting itself as something of a go-slow in a range of areas of opening up, from migrant family reunification to the return of international students.

Both governments have welcomed the opening of the bubble today. A joint statement was released early this morning, much of which was about sharing a neighbourhood. It included the lines; “Our countries share a Single Economic Market, and two-way travel across the Tasman will help drive the economic recovery for both countries while we continue to navigate the COVID-19 global pandemic, especially in the travel and tourism sectors. It will also enable closer trans-Tasman business engagement, which will drive broader economic activity in both Australia and New Zealand.”

And we at The Spinoff are going to celebrate the relationship with our cousins in Australia this week. In fact, we’re creatively calling our series of content… Australia Week. It is not intended to focus on every single aspect of what makes Australia newsworthy, as some of our other coverage has – for example, Don Rowe’s coverage of Australia’s brutal deportation policy, or Duncan Greive’s articles on the battles Australia is having with tech giants. Rather, a lot of Australia Week will be about exploring why the place holds such a fascination – both in positive and negative ways – for many of us over on the other side.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here




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