New Zealand stands by ‘travel bubble’ plan despite Covid outbreaks in Australia
The New Zealand government is standing by its plan to establish a trans-Tasman travel “bubble” by April, despite community transmission of coronavirus in several Australian states.
In mid-December the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced that quarantine-free movement between Australia and New Zealand would be instated by the end of March, contingent on no changes in the Covid-19 status of each country. “I think New Zealanders desperately need a break,” she said.
But recent outbreaks of coronavirus in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, many of them linked to interstate travel – plus the highly infectious variant of coronavirus driving up cases overseas – had cast doubt on the plan.
Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins confirmed to the Guardian in a statement on Wednesday that New Zealand was still looking to establish the bubble in the first quarter of 2021. Decisions on a commencement date would “be made early this year, as conditions allow”.
Hipkins said New Zealand officials were closely monitoring the situation in specific parts of Australia, and that both countries would need to meet “a range of health and border requirements … in order for a Trans-Tasman Safe Travel Zone to commence”.
Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, had earlier indicated that the federal government would accept New Zealand’s proposal, describing it as “the first step on a return to international normality”. New Zealanders can already travel to Queensland, NSW and the Northern Territory without having to self-isolate on arrival.
Asked what extra precautionary measures would need to be considered or undertaken in New Zealand in order to make a travel bubble with Australia feasible, Hipkins said the two countries were “taking similar approaches to Covid-19, including a very careful approach at the border.
“The health and border requirements for a Trans-Tasman Safe Travel Zone will be strict. As well, officials are completing further readiness work, including contingency planning for an outbreak in either country after a Safe Travel Zone commences.”
Hipkins had earlier been working with Auckland and Wellington airports to create two separate zones for processing those passengers arriving from safe travel destinations, and for those bound for quarantine in a government-managed facility.
Auckland airport’s chief executive, Adrian Littlewood, told Stuff in mid-December that passenger separation facilities and processes were being tested with cooperation of airlines and government agencies, in readiness of the trans-Tasman bubble being approved.
Wellington airport’s general manager of corporate affairs, Jenna Raeburn, said then that the capital’s facilities had already “been ready to roll out safe travel measures … for several months”.