Families separated by the Tasman Sea may yet get to reunite at Christmas after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s most optimistic comments on the resumption of regular travel arrangements with Australia.
COVID-19 brought trans-Tasman travel to a near standstill earlier in 2020, with both countries slapping heavy restrictions on incoming and outgoing trips and carriers all but abandoning routes due to unprofitability.
Currently, New Zealand is allowing only Kiwi citizens and Australians who normally live in NZ, with limited exemptions for humanitarian or economic reasons, to enter. Like Australia, it is also mandating a 14-day quarantine for new arrivals.
However, Ms Ardern believes a shift in approach from the Australian government “does open up opportunities” for travel without the fortnight-long isolation.
“The Australians have moved on their previous plans,” she told TVNZ.
“Previously they wanted a whole of Australia approach and we said that would slow things down.
“They’re now moving to a hotspot regime where certain parts [of Australia] won’t be able to be part of free movement between Australia and across the Tasman.
“We’re working through the differences that would make for New Zealand and the arrangements we would need to ensure that if we’re opening up to one state that border is contained to ensure its safe for New Zealanders.”
Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham also supports the establishment of a bubble in 2020, suggesting Australia might allow Kiwis to visit without the 14-day quarantine given New Zealand’s strong record of keeping the coronavirus out.
On Sunday, Ms Ardern’s deputy Winston Peters said he was working “as hard as we possibly can” towards the resumption of travel, adding “some were saying by Christmas. We should be able to do it much sooner than that”.
Ms Ardern said a trans-Tasman bubble to some states, naming Queensland specifically, should be possible before the end of the year.
“It is possible,” she said.
“What we’d need to be assured of is when Australia is saying ‘we’ve got a hotspot over here’ that the border around that hotspot means we aren’t able to travel into the states we are engaging with on trans-Tasman travel.”
Given New Zealand’s continued to commitment to its much-vaunted COVID-19 elimination strategy, that might mean Queenslanders are able to travel to New Zealand before they can visit Melbourne.
“We’ve got a strategy of having a COVID-free country. That’s our ongoing goal and way of operating,” Ms Ardern said.
It remains to be seen whether New Zealand’s re-engagement with Australia on the trans-Tasman bubble will also allow for travel with Pacific countries.
The Victorian outbreak led Ms Ardern’s government to further plans to open to the Cook Islands, with a view to other island nations. But the Labour leader has stressed a high degree of caution owing to a deficiency in health care in the Pacific.