Quarantine-free international travel to and from New Zealand could be happening within a month – but it appears to hinge on there being no Covid outbreaks in either country.
Kiwi Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined when the start date will be announced – Tuesday, April 6 – and a list of conditions for the green light – but the deal-breaker appears to be Australia maintaining a clean bill of health on the virus.
From Monday, Australians are allowed to travel to New Zealand without an exemption – but must still undergo a 14 day quarantine.
New Zealand Prime Minister says quarantine-free travel between Australia and NZ would be good for business, tourism and families – but it would be a case of ‘flyer beware’
From Monday, Australians no longer needed an exemption to travel to New Zealand, but still need to quarantine for 14 days
Ardern said quarantine-free travel back and forth between New Zealand and Australia was a priority for tourism and business but also ‘reuniting friends and families’.
‘We know what it would mean for people.’
About 600,000 Kiwis live in Australia, and 75,000 Australians call NZ home.
Ardern said a key factor to quarantine-free travel beginning is both countries remaining clear of the virus, warning that New Zealand would ‘shut down if we had or saw cases offshore’.
‘If we want to maintain a situation where New Zealand does not have Covid, if there is an outbreak identified in Australia and they’re not aware of the source it is very likely you would see us close down travel for a period of time until we can be confident about what is occurring.’
That would probably leave travellers ‘stranded’ on either side of the Tasman Sea.
Kiwi PM recognised reuniting families, as well as tourism, is a big reason for opening the borders. Nearly 600,000 Kiwis live in Australia and 75,000 Australians live in NZ
Countdown to crossing the ditch for the weekend – the end of a 14 day quarantine would mean short trips to places like Wanaka in New Zealand (pictured) for a much-needed overseas break would be possible again
‘On both sides of the ditch, to make this work, there will be an element of ‘flyer beware’,’ Ardern said.
Opening New Zealand’s borders to Australia meant her country needed a clear response plan for outbreaks in Australia, including the Director General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, providing ‘an up to date health assessment’.
She also indicated Australians in New Zealand will need to comply with the Kiwi system, including accepting contact tracing and use of QR codes.
The use of masks are still compulsory in New Zealand ‘on all public transport and flights’, according to the latest NZ Ministry of Health advice.
It wasn’t clear from Ardern’s speech whether Australians would have to cover their own costs for self-isolation if they were part in a group where one person tested positive – as happened with Australian Open tennis players.
But Ardern did say ‘managed isolation costs’ needed to be finalised, especially in relation to passengers in transit who were on flights ending up beyond Australia or New Zealand.
The Kiwi PM also outlined a range of other administrative Covid response issues her nation needs to work through – including changes to the testing regime and an alert system that takes into account Australian states.
She also said airlines and airports needed to be fully ready.
On Monday Kiwis changed to their emergency biosecurity laws, to say anyone who has been in Australia for at least 14 days can travel ‘directly to New Zealand’.
Australians were previously required to apply for an exemption to cross the Tasman as part of the ban on travelling overseas.
‘It is close,’ Ms Ardern said in interviews to breakfast TV shows on TVNZ and Three on Monday morning.
‘No one should expect at the end of the day there will be an opening (and) today is not the day you’re going to get that final date and decision.
Under changes to the emergency biosecurity laws made Monday, anyone who has been in Australia for at least 14 days can travel ‘directly to New Zealand’
‘But we do expect to be in a position to open up the bubble soon.’
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Ms Ardern first agreed on a trans-Tasman bubble in May last year.
However a series of Covid-19 outbreaks and and changes in travel regulations had forced delays to the restoration of pre-COVID travel arrangements.
Still, Australia’s three biggest states have opened their borders to Kiwi travellers.
Ms Ardern said any opening would require travellers to take on a degree of risk in the event of an outbreak where they are visiting.
‘It’s very likely those New Zealanders would have to shelter in place,’ she said.
‘We have thousands of people who prior to COVID crossed the Tasman on both sides. We would not be in the position to repatriate thousands of New Zealanders to come back in a managed isolation arrangement.’
Last month, Ms Ardern walked away from a pledge to open up the bubble by March, but the issue has gained a new prominence after the opposition shifted tack to support it.
Last week, 42,000 Kiwis signed a petition backed by the National Party asking for the bubble to begin immediately.
Ms Ardern denied politics was behind Labour’s new-found enthusiasm for the policy.
‘A petition doesn’t make this decision. We make it based on health advice,’ she said.
‘We never do anything we’re not ready to do.’