Australian tourists will soon be able to travel to New Zealand without quarantining, with a ‘bubble’ between the two countries potentially only weeks away.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said she planned to lock in plans for quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel in early 2021, with tourists to flow by March.
Australia’s federal tourism minister Simon Birmingham said it could help save thousands of jobs in the travel sector, while health minister Greg Hunt said it was “the first step on the return to international normality”.
At a press conference on Monday, Ms Ardern said her government was looking to start creating ‘bubbles’ with other COVID-free nations.
“Cabinet has agreed in principle to establish a travel bubble with Australia, we anticipate, in the first quarter of 2021, pending confirmation from the Australian cabinet and no significant change in the circumstances in either country,” Ms Ardern said.
“It is our intention to name a date for trans-Tasman quarantine-free travel in the New Year, once remaining details are locked down.”
She said those “details” would include stipulations around 28 days of no community transmission, as well as safeguards in the case of another COVID outbreak in either Australia or NZ, such as what would happen to tourists in either country who wanted to return home.
“It hasn’t been a hypothetical, we have seen outbreaks before [in Australia],” Ms Ardern said.
She added she had concerns around how airlines would operate, and how they would ensure crew and passengers would be kept separate from people from “high-risk” COVID areas.
She said “good progress” with Australian officials had been made, and she was confident of locking in travel details in early 2021. Chris Hipkins, NZ’s minister for COVID response, said “logistical issues” still remains before the bubble could be officially locked in.
Ms Ardern said NZ was also looking at a bubble with the Cook Islands. Pacific nations, which have not seen large COVID outbreaks, have long been mooted as the next possible destination for an Australian travel bubble.
In a statement to The New Daily, federal tourism minister Simon Birmingham said the travel bubble could save “thousands of jobs”.
“This is welcome news and a glimmer of hope in what has been an incredibly tough year for our tourism industry,” he said.
“Australia’s tourism industry wants to stand on its own two feet as soon as possible and restarting some two way quarantine-free international travel with New Zealand is a step in the right direction.”
“New Zealand is a huge part of Australian tourism and getting people moving in a COVID-safe way between our countries will provide an economic lift and save thousands of jobs.”
Speaking at a press conference in Melbourne, Mr Hunt also welcomed the news.
“This is a sign that New Zealand and Australia are not just working together, but that families can be back together in both directions. Friends can be back together in both directions,” he said.
“Flights can be full in both directions which is good for the economy, good for our airlines and it is good for both countries.”
Kiwis are currently able to travel to Australia without quarantining, but the arrangement is ‘one-way’, meaning Aussies do have to undergo two weeks isolation when entering NZ.
Mr Hunt said Kiwis would be able to come to Australia without a COVID vaccine, on the basis of advice from Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly.
Despite saying recently that most tourists would probably have to be vaccinated to avoid quarantine when arriving in Australia in future, Mr Hunt said this wasn’t needed for Kiwis “because New Zealand has no community transmission at this point in time.”