Australia’s international travel ban could be lifted within weeks, should the proposed trans-Tasman bubble pass muster in early June.
The Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group is working out how to open the borders between Australia and New Zealand and plans to send a draft proposal to the Australian and New Zealand governments in the next week or so.
The group, which consists of health experts and airline, airport and border agency representatives from both nations, hopes to have the bubble ready by the July school holidays.
“New Zealand and Australia have worked really hard to get where they are in containing the spread of COVID-19,” said group co-chair Scott Tasker.
“We are very fortunate to now be in a position where our governments can even contemplate the safe re-opening of the trans-Tasman border, for the benefit of our communities and economies.
“Our aim is to put forward a detailed set of recommendations that safely manage any health risks, while also allowing Kiwis and Australians to travel to each country without the need for a 14-day quarantine.”
One-and-a-half million Australians visited New Zealand last year, which made up about 40 per cent of the country’s visitors. Almost as many Kiwis, 1.4 million, travelled to Australia. According to the NZ Herald, reciprocal spending amounted to about $3 billion.
Both Australia and New Zealand are supporting the plan. However, it may be hindered by Australia’s domestic border disputes.
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said earlier this week that he hoped closed borders in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania would not “become an obstacle to progress” on trans-Tasman travel.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would consider the ‘bubble’ as part of the federal government’s third phase of eased restrictions.
Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group co-chair and chief executive of Australia’s Tourism and Transport Forum Margy Osmond said experts were focused on creating protections required for a safe travel zone, including eligibility for travel, how to manage passengers, enhanced cleaning protocols and education campaigns.
“It’s critically important that people can have confidence in the safety of a trans-Tasman safe travel zone,” she said.
Forum co-chair Ann Sherry said the bubble had made good progress in a short space of time, but that people will have to testify as to their health and will not be allowed to travel if they are sick.
“But the pace of people being tested has already given us a good understanding of how community transmission is working,” she said.
“[The] overriding focus is to ensure each partner has jointly got the confidence in keeping travellers safe and each other’s ability to do what we say we are going to do”.
NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters believes the bubble is a ways off yet.
“Truthfully, we couldn’t get it up and running tomorrow. But if we are going to have biosecurity standards and transportation protocols they need to be identical between the two countries,” he said.
The benefits of opening a corridor between both countries goes well beyond travel, says NZ Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker
“As soon as global disruption became evident, and before we had harder border restrictions, we were discussing the maintenance of supply lines with Australia, both by sea and air, and we have both also been in regular contact with our traditional trading partners, to retain supply lines for health and other essential goods,” he said.
“I think an indication of how seriously we are taking this is that both of our Prime Ministers are speaking about this weekly, so we are now trying to apply the ‘go fast go early’ principles to rekindling the economy – and that is an important part of that.”
Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts wants to plan to move quickly.
“New Zealand is a clear favourite [for Australians], with a third of those wanting to travel overseas identifying it as their preferred destination,” he said.
“[New Zealand is] no riskier than travelling interstate within Australia, while there is a lot more apprehension about travelling to other destinations that have not been as successful in containing the virus.”
Would you travel to New Zealand as soon as the bubble opens?
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