Ardern confirms plans for two-way trans-Tasman travel bubble

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed plans for a new trans-Tasman travel bubble, but Australians will have to wait until next month to find out when they can fly.

Ms Ardern told a New Zealand press conference on Monday that she would reveal a date for quarantine-free travel between the two countries on 6 April.

Ms Ardern explained that she was as yet unable to commit to a date for the opening of New Zealand’s borders to Australian tourists as more time was needed to set up the final framework for how travel arrangements and contact tracing would work for visitors.

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Australia’s border has been mostly open to New Zealand travellers since October last year, with visitors from across the Tasman able to visit without undergoing mandatory hotel quarantine.

The arrangement was always expected to become reciprocal at some point, but there were delays caused by the December outbreak in NSW and various instances of the UK strain of the virus popping up around Australia.

Ms Ardern admitted that she was now under increasing pressure to open the border to Australians to help the country’s ailing tourism industry.

Read more: Australia, New Zealand and Singapore talking three-way bubble?

The Morrison government laid the groundwork for the travel bubble to be opened on Sunday night when it made changes to Australia’s travel ban to specifically exclude people flying to New Zealand.

The change now means that Australians are able to travel to New Zealand without first applying for a permit.

Ms Ardern explained that some of the issues that need to be worked through related to state-by-state issues rather than country to country.

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“Our view is, rather than trying to work through a solution that sees all of Australia with New Zealand, that we can work through an arrangement that sees us operating with some states but not others,” Ms Ardern said.

“Opening up our borders to our nearest neighbour is a priority not only for tourism and business but also in terms of reuniting friends and families.

“Opening up a green travel zone with Australia, without quarantine, is highly complex. Officials have been considering and working through these complexities for months.”

Ms Ardern explained that some of the issues that needed to be worked through included:

  • a response framework for when there are cases in Australia
  • measures to contact trace travellers from Australia when necessary
  • resolving technical issues (including transitioning passengers when their ultimate destination isn’t Australia or New Zealand).

She also said that even when the travel bubble between the two countries did open there would still be an element of risk for travellers.

“We may have scenarios where travel will shut down one way, and it may, therefore, leave travellers, for a period of time, stranded on either side of the Tasman,” Ms Ardern said. That’s one of the downsides of moving through this arrangement.

“If we want to maintain a situation where New Zealand does not have COVID in the country, if there is an outbreak identified in Australia and, for instance, they’re not aware of the source, it is very likely that you would see us close down travel for a period of time until we can be confident of what is occurring.

“I think, on both sides of the ditch, we will be saying: to make this work, there will be an element of flyer beware.

“We want to keep this open; we want to keep it moving, but we also want to keep both sides safe. So there may be occasions when we take a precautionary approach and for short periods of time; travel ceases.”

Are you excited by the prospect of quarantine-free travel to New Zealand? Will you travel to New Zealand once the travel bubble opens?

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Written by Ben