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Supply chains must work effectively so that food and other essential consumer goods can be distributed. Road and rail networks, ferries and aircraft must run so that essential workers can get to their jobs. International shipping and air freight need to keep going so the nation’s economy remains connected to the world. Our COVID-19 transport sector key indicators provide a snapshot of the pandemic’s effect on the sector.
In December last year, we began monitoring the emerging virus situation in Wuhan, China. In January this year we started planning for a possible pandemic. We activated the Transport Response Team in February and worked with transport agencies and operators in the transport sector to implement COVID-19 public health measures in a coordinated and effective way. Transport operators continue to step up as part of the ‘frontline’ of New Zealand’s response. Their efforts to implement travel restrictions, hygiene and safety practices, and other public health measures across their services have been critical in slowing down and minimising the transmission of COVID-19 across New Zealand.
New Zealand’s supply chains and our freight sector have remained resilient and responsive. Sea freight, which made up about 99.7% of trade volume and 80% of trade value last year has not been as seriously disrupted as air freight but nevertheless dropped initially to around 90% of previous levels and is now experiencing further disruption due to congestion at Ports of Auckland, international shipping lines reducing service to New Zealand, and travel restrictions and health measures impacting on ship crew changeovers.
Shipping is an essential service that integrates into the national logistics system and directly contributes to the $121 billion import-export trade. Nearly $300,000 has been provided to the Seafarers Welfare Board New Zealand to enable it to provide critical support services to international seafarers adversely impacted by COVID-19 border restrictions. This has been funded out of the Essential Transport Connectivity fund, administered by the Ministry of Transport.
The collapse in international air travel caused by the pandemic put New Zealand’s ability to air-freight essential products at risk. The International Air Freight Capacity scheme added capacity to maintain links with global markets. The scheme requires importers and exporters to pay for their freight on a commercial basis, and aims to help the sector recover as quickly as possible.
Overall, the maritime and aviation sectors (with their significant border interface) have demonstrated understanding and support for public health requirements for their staff, workplaces and operations.
Because international connections are critical for New Zealand’s economic, social and cultural wellbeing and recovery, a significant focus of our work is centred on how New Zealand can safely remain connected and safely enhance connections to international trade and travel. As shown by COVID-19 cases being found in travellers in isolation hotels, New Zealand’s border settings need to be monitored regularly to ensure they remain fit-for-purpose and to reflect the growing body of knowledge about COVID-19 and how it is transmitted.
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This article is based largely on a report to the Minister of Transport, prepared by the Ministry’s COVID-19 Response Team.