Quarantine-free travel between Australia and part of New Zealand has been given the green light to take off again, despite both countries still battling COVID outbreaks.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said NSW and Victoria had agreed to allow trips from New Zealand’s South Island to restart from midnight on Tuesday – allowing Australians stranded on the other side of the Tasman for several months to finally return home.
Auckland entered its 62nd day of lockdown on Monday, with 60 more cases confirmed. Infections in the outbreak have largely been confined to the country’s largest city and neighbouring regions, as well some in Wellington – and the government was meeting on Monday to consider alert levels for Auckland.
There has not been a COVID-19 case in the South Island since last year.
“There is very good work being done to stop people from the North Island going to the South Island, so that is not a risk,” Professor Kelly said in Canberra on Sunday.
“We hope to allow anyone who has been in the South Island of New Zealand whether Australian, New Zealanders or other nationalities, as long as they have been there for 14 days, to come in quarantine free.”
The so-called green lane travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand was halted earlier this year after the Delta variant of COVID-19 hit the south-east of Australia.
“I understand there are some Australians that have been stuck in the South Island of New Zealand for some time,” Professor Kelly said.
Travel will resume from midnight on Tuesday.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said he had also been in discussions with his Singaporean counterpart about a green lane travel bubble for fully vaccinated travellers from the Asian city-state.
More broadly, Mr Hunt said there was a three-phase approach to international travel.
“Phase one is the opening up of double-vaccinated travel for Australians to leave and for Australian residents and their immediate family to come back,” he said.
Phase two, which is being worked on between the Commonwealth and the states, is to allow students and priority workers to travel to Australia.
“Phase three would be for fully vaccinated international travellers, that would include tourism,” Mr Hunt said.