New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern says she expects to hold a face-to-face meeting with her Australian counterpart soon after travel bubble begins.
New Zealand will allow quarantine-free visits by Australians from April 19, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday, creating a two-way “travel bubble” for the neighbouring nations which have closed borders to the rest of the world to eradicate COVID-19.
Though most Australian states have allowed quarantine-free visits from New Zealanders for months, New Zealand has continued mandatory quarantine from its neighbour, citing concern about small COVID-19 outbreaks there.
The virus has effectively been eradicated in both countries, with minor outbreaks a result of leakage from quarantined returned travellers.
“The Trans-Tasman travel bubble represents a start of a new chapter in our COVID response and recovery, one that people have worked so hard at,” Ardern told reporters in the New Zealand capital, Wellington.
“That makes New Zealand and Australia relatively unique. I know family, friends and significant parts of our economy will welcome it, as I know I certainly do.
“I cannot see or point to any countries in the world that are maintaining a strategy of keeping their countries completely COVID-free whilst opening up to international travel between each other, that means that in a way we are world-leading, that’s something I think both countries should be proud of and I think we’re doing it at exactly the right time.”
Some other neighbouring countries have outlined plans for special travel zones, but the New Zealand-Australia arrangement is among the first that does not involve COVID-19 testing.
About 568,000 New Zealand-born people live in Australia, according to 2018 figures, equivalent to 2.3 per cent of the Australian population and Australia’s fourth-largest migrant community. Trade between the two countries is worth $18.06bn, according to New Zealand data, making Australia New Zealand’s biggest trading partner.
Ardern warned that flights to and from some Australian states could still be suspended in the event of local outbreaks.
She said public safety was her government’s “number-one priority”.
“We have made sure that we have taken the time to get it right, that we have precautions and protocols in place to prepare for any scenario that may occur in New Zealand and Australia, and safety will continue to guide our decisions around the way this bubble operates.”
BREAKING: Trans-Tasman bubble starts Mon April 19th!
More good news: NZ will implement traffic light system based on specific States as opposed to Aust-wide: in the event of a COVID outbreak in QLD e.g – NZ will only Pause (Yellow Light) or Suspend (Red Light) QLD flights. pic.twitter.com/BEHK51vo0g
— Thomas O’Brien (@TJ__OBrien) April 6, 2021
Australia has recorded about 29,400 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began, while New Zealand has had just over 2,100 confirmed cases and 26 deaths.
Australia’s New Daily newspaper reported that that Prime Minister Scott Morrison “is likely to be one of the first Australians” to travel to New Zealand when the travel gateway opens.
It is a tradition for the two countries’ leaders to meet annually, although that has been disrupted last year due to the pandemic. According to the report, this year is New Zealand’s turn to host that meeting.
“I spoke to Prime Minister Scott Morrison last night to say today is the day the cabinet would be making those decisions,” Ardern said during the announcement. “The first thing we talked about was when we could have those face-to-face meetings. Dates are being discussed. I expect it will be relatively soon.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the Australian Airports Association (AAA) welcomed the announcement of Ardern saying it “will provide a much-needed boost to the aviation and tourism sectors and help to increase the confidence of potential travellers”.
“Our consumer research suggests Australians are eager to get on an aircraft and start travelling again with almost 80 per cent of Australians supportive of creating travel bubbles with countries where levels of COVID-19 are low,” the AAA’s Chief Executive James Goodwin said.