Kiwis wanting to travel to Australia will be grounded for at least three more days after federal health authorities extended the pause on the trans-Tasman travel bubble.
The bubble was popped on Monday, after the emergence of NZ’s first community case of the coronavirus in months.
With confirmation on Wednesday of two more cases linked to the same Auckland quarantine hotel, deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd said the pause would be extended for at least 72 hours longer. It will last until at least 2pm on January 31.
“This allows continuing protection of the people of Australia, while the extent of the situation in New Zealand continues to be clarified,” he said.
NZ authorities confirmed on Thursday that all three of this week’s COVID infections are linked to the Pullman Hotel in Auckland. All three people – a Northland woman and a father and son from Auckland – are infected with the worrying South African variant of the virus.
Professor Kidd said Australian authorities had been advised that all close contacts of the Northland woman had since tested negative to the virus. Five of 11 close contacts of the latter pair had also returned negative results, with six tests still to come.
Kiwi authorities are also waiting on test results from other people in quarantine at the hotel.
The pause on the trans-Tasman travel bubble means NZers are discouraged from coming to Australia, and face 14 days in compulsory hotel quarantine if they do.
Professor Kidd said 12 people left the hotel and flew across the Tasman before the initial pause was announced.
“All these people are being followed up by the health authorities in the state where they landed,” he said.
Three of them had travelled on to Hong Kong, whose authorities have also been advised.
Earlier, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was still hopeful of making the trans-Tasman bubble a two-way arrangement in the “first quarter” of 2021, but Australia’s reaction to the fresh outbreak made the prospect “increasingly difficult”.
NZ still requires anyone landing on its shores – including Kiwis returning from Australia – to undergo two week’s mandatory quarantine, making existing travel arrangements effectively one-way.
Few want the bubble to work both ways more than New Zealand’s tourism businesses.
With Kiwi borders closed to international visitors, Tourism Industry Aotearoa estimates the sector will miss out on $NZ6 billion ($A5.6 billion) this summer.
A third of that spend would have come from Australians, and perhaps more given a bubble would make New Zealand the only international destination available to jetsetting Aussies.
Frustrated TIA chief executive Chris Roberts sees the bubble slipping away.
“Every time we almost get to the prize it gets snatched away,” he said.
“The government was proposing to make it two-way in the first quarter and they were going to give us a precise date for that in early January.
“Now we’re at the end of January and our Prime Minister is signalling it’s getting more difficult.
“Our tourism businesses need customers.”
Mr Roberts said he supported the safety-first approach, but a bubble delay would mean his industry needed more support.
“The single biggest assistance government could give would be opening up the Tasman,” he said.
“There’s pent up demand in Australia, particularly if we’re the one choice. There’s a huge prize we just can’t access.”