By Roger Partridge*
In a world infected with a lethal virus, being virus-free is like being bullet proof. The coronavirus may have enveloped the globe, but it has been repelled by New Zealand’s five million-strong force field.
New Zealand’s newfound strength has come at a high cost. Hotels are empty. Tourist attractions lie dormant. And the country’s $5 billion export education sector is in tatters. Together, the two sectors make up almost a quarter of New Zealand’s exports.
A significant portion of the tourism losses will be made up if New Zealand opens its borders with Australia in an ANZAC bubble. If the Government, airlines and airports can construct effective quarantine procedures at the border, the prospects of engaging with the world beyond Australia look enticing.
Reviving the international education sector is an obvious first step. As the Initiative recommended this month in Open for minds: export education and recovery, capitalising on New Zealand’s Covid-19-free status by reopening to foreign students would allow the $5 billion export education sector to expand in response to the current crisis.
Beyond international education, professional sport may be an unlikely winner. Nils Coberger, head coach of the New Zealand men’s ski team, reports unprecedented interest from international ski teams wanting to train in New Zealand this winter.
Teams are keen to come here because the European World Cup season was cut short at the end of February. With the Winter Olympics only 20 months away, teams can make up for the lack of ‘on-snow’ training in the Northern Hemisphere.
Skiing is the tip of the iceberg. The Bundesliga football competition is desperate to restart to secure the television rights German football clubs need to stave off bankruptcy. Billions of euros are at stake. Yet, despite players and staff self-isolating, German football seems unable to sidestep Covid-19.
Sport New Zealand should invite the entire league to New Zealand, have them spend 14 days in quarantine and then fire up the “Bundesliga down-under.” What a boon that would be for hotels and the wider travel and hospitality industries!
With no need for big stadiums, perhaps other leagues and sports could be invited too. Britain’s rugby season is on hold. So is the Six Nations. New Zealand could host these as well.
Better yet, how about an open invitation to any sports league interested in broadcasting games from beneath New Zealand’s Covid-free cloak and willing to meet the costs of mandatory, well-monitored quarantining?
Covid-19 has weakened New Zealand’s economy. But eradicating it has given the country new strength. We should use it.
*Roger Partridge is chairman of public policy think tank The New Zealand Initiative. This article first ran here.