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Travel bubble in mind as airport creates two terminal zones

August 5, 2020 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Auckland Airport is separating its international terminal into two zones as part of plan to create a “travel bubble” – the first in this part of the world – which will include the Cook Islands and may one day extend across the Tasman Sea to embrace Australia.

Australia is currently excluded from the bubble by the blowout in Covid-19 coronavirus cases in Victoria. That state has now entered a hard “stage-four” lockdown in a desperate bid to rein in the virus. Ironically, it was New Zealand’s decision to do the same – going very hard early on – that allowed New Zealand to eliminate Covid-19 from its territory.

Victoria’s stage-four lockdown will last six weeks. So did New Zealand’s – and it extinguished the virus there. New Zealand went “hard and early”. Victoria is going hard but later, with a lockdown that will last until Sunday 13 September 2020.

Michael Baker, a professor of public health at the University of Otago and the prime instigator of New Zealand’s successful lockdown strategy, was interviewed on ABC Radio National yesterday. Baker earlier told the New Scientist that even some of his colleagues initially resisted his elimination plan, thinking it was too radical.

“Some likened it to using a sledgehammer to kill a flea,” Baker said.

On 25 March, when New Zealand had only 205 Covid-19 cases and no deaths, it set in force perhaps the strictest lockdown in the world. People were confined to their homes except for essential reasons like buying food and going to the doctor.

The strategy worked for New Zealand, which is why the country is now able to work towards a travel bubble with the Cook Islands.

A trans-Tasman travel bubble with Australia is still some way off. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has dismissed the prospect in the meantime, noting that Australia’s coronavirus community transmission levels are currently too high to contemplate reopening travel between the two countries. It would take Australia “a long time” to return to zero community transmission, she said.

Some Australian states have done very well in their battle against the coronavirus, but in NSW, community transmission of Covid-19 is still simmering away – not to mention the crisis in Victoria.

MEANWHILE, in anticipation of a safe air corridor being formed between New Zealand and the Cook Islands, Auckland Airport is preparing to separate different categories of travellers as they pass through the international terminal.

With planning in the final stages, a key feature will be the separation of the airport’s international terminal building into two self-contained processing zones, to become operational shortly after a travel bubble is announced:

  • International Terminal Zone A, Safe Travel area: The main pier to the south (gates 1-10) will be used by people travelling to and from countries with which New Zealand has formed a safe travel bubble. People who have been in New Zealand for more than 14 days and are departing on international flights will also use Terminal A. Retail and food and beverage options will be available
  • International Terminal Zone B, Health Management area: A second self-contained zone will be created out of Pier B (gates 15-18), the pier that points to the west. International Zone B will be used for travellers arriving from countries with which New Zealand does not have a safe travel bubble, and who are required to undergo either managed isolation or quarantine. It will also be used for passengers transiting through Auckland Airport en route elsewhere. With the limited number of transit passengers, food and beverage options will be made available via vending machines

From the earliest days of the pandemic, Auckland Airport has been working with airlines and government health and border agencies to protect New Zealand against the spread of Covid-19.

“By reconfiguring our terminal into two separate zones we are creating a safe way for people to travel to and from countries that we have formed a travel bubble with, as well as being able to safely process New Zealanders arriving from other countries,” Auckland Airport’s chief executive, Adrian Littlewood, commented.

“Auckland Airport is a complex eco-system of organisations and we are working closely together to enable the safe and secure movement of travellers. Auckland Airport is building the new internal walls to allow for the terminal to be separated, and we are working through the final stages of planning with border agencies and airlines to enable the physical and operational separation.”

Originally built in 2008 and extended in 2018, International Pier B operates on an independent network of utilities including heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, while a UV filtration system further treats and cleans the air. A separate border processing facility will also be created in International Terminal Zone B: Health Management area.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Auckland Airport has stepped up health and safety measures in line with Ministry of Health requirements, including frequent sanitisation of high-touch areas, increased cleaning, strict safety protocols for staff, and hand-sanitiser stations available throughout both domestic and international terminals.

“While physical distancing isn’t a requirement under Alert Level 1, we are encouraging customers to allow space between themselves and other people, and for everyone to take extra care with hygiene.

“While the timing of re-establishing international travel is a government decision, we have been working to ensure we have the infrastructure in place to support the management of Covid-19 at the border alongside safe travel to countries without community transmission,” Littlewood said.

When operational, for safe travel bubble passengers arriving and departing from what will be known as International Terminal Zone A, it will be a similar experience to how people travelled through the terminal before Covid-19. The usual departure and security formalities will be in place followed by a retail and food and beverage area, with flights departing from International Pier A. Access to International Pier B will be completely closed off to these travellers.

“It will also mean we use buses and remote stands more frequently to ensure the careful separation and processing of passengers departing and arriving from different parts of the world,” Littlewood said.

“Making these major operational changes is only possible with the commitment and support of all our partners across the airport system,” he added.

“We have worked hard to protect New Zealand against the virus and this close collaboration will continue as we work to enable future safe travel bubbles.”

Written by Peter Needham

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