As Australia and New Zealand’s coronavirus cases dwindle, plans are afoot to create a “trans-Tasman bubble” that would allow free travel between the two countries.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to flesh out the plan on Tuesday during a National Cabinet meeting with Australian leaders via video call.
Although the idea is still in its early stages, the prospect of being allowed to visit our Kiwi neighbours when overseas travel seems near-impossible has come as a welcome surprise.
What is the ‘trans-Tasman bubble’ and how will it work?
The “trans-Tasman bubble” would act as a travel corridor that allows Australian and New Zealand citizens to travel freely between the two nations.
At the moment, however, both countries still have strict domestic travel restrictions in place and international arrivals are subjected to 14 days of quarantine.
So before the dream of a “trans-Tasman bubble” becomes a reality, both New Zealand and Australia would have to first ease travel restrictions.
Airports may also need to boost health checks and temperature screenings as an extra precaution, and travellers may have to accept they will be traced during their visit.
Great friends with big benefits
A major incentive for easing restrictions among Australia and New Zealand would be to kickstart each other’s struggling tourism industries.
This is especially important for New Zealand, where tourism is the country’s biggest export industry.
Australians make up nearly 40 per cent of international arrivals to New Zealand, spending more than any other country including China.
And the deal works both ways.
Tourism is only Australia’s fourth biggest export industry, but New Zealanders make up about 15 per cent of the country’s international visitors and the industry is worth billions.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month flagged that “if there is any country in the world with whom we can reconnect with first, undoubtedly that’s New Zealand”.
Could the bubble be expanded?
If the travel bubble proves successful, there may be scope to broaden it to include the Pacific Islands.
After shutting borders early, Pacific Island nations appear to have escaped the worst of the coronavirus pandemic in terms of coronavirus cases and deaths.
But from an economic perspective, many Pacific nations have suffered due to a sharp decline in tourism.
Broadening the travel bubble could help boost tourism in the region, but it comes with a risk of potentially infecting local populations.
Given many of these island nations are already battling significant health challenges, this outcome would be a disaster.
“Our Pacific neighbours in large part have not been afflicted by COVID-19,” Ms Ardern said.
“And the last thing we would want is to risk that.”
If not now, when?
It is too early to suggest a date for when this ‘trans-Tasman bubble’ could become a reality.
There is still much we don’t know about the coronavirus and how it spreads.
If a second wave of virus outbreaks emerged, any plans to open up travel between Australia and New Zealand would be shelved and we would likely be placed under lockdown again.