New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a travel bubble with Australia will commence on April 19.
Both countries’ borders have effectively been closed since March last year because of the pandemic.
While some Australian states have allowed one-way travel from New Zealand without the need for quarantine since October, New Zealand has so far not returned the favour.
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That will all change in less than two weeks when Australians are welcomed across the ditch without having to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine.
“This is an important step forward in our COVID response and represents an arrangement I do not believe we have seen in any other part of the world,” Ms Ardern said on Tuesday.
“That is, safely opening up international travel to another country while continuing to pursue a strategy of elimination and a commitment to keeping the virus out.”
Ms Ardern says while today’s announcement is a major development, she has warned travellers that things will not be the same as pre-COVID times and people should be prepared for last-minute disruptions.
New Zealand will establish an alert system for when local cases of COVID emerge in Australia, similar to the system it already has for its own cases.
“Once we know about a case in Australia we will have three possible responses when it comes to flights and access to our border, and we’ve captured these with a framework based on continue, pause, or suspend.”
The ‘green zone’ flights will only be available for people who have been in Australia in the previous 14 days, with transiting travellers banned.
Airline passengers will be required to wear a mask on trans-Tasman flights and will have to download New Zealand’s COVID-safe app.
Anyone who has cold or flu symptoms will be banned from travelling.
Officials have flagged the possibility that travellers from Queensland will be required to undergo a pre-flight COVID test with a decision to be made next week.
New Zealand will also set aside 500 places in hotel quarantine for trans-Tasman travellers in case there is an outbreak.
“This is an exciting day, 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 if.
“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.”
Tourism groups are thrilled at the news with the industry struggling without international visitors.
Tourism and Transport Forum CEO Margy Osmond has described it as a ‘game changer’.
“The ‘buzz around the bubble’ and associated travel confidence will provide some relief to Australia’s long-suffering tourism, transport and aviation sectors as we welcome back Kiwis to visit friends and relatives, conduct business and go on holiday,” Ms Osmond said.
“While recent Federal Government support for cheap airline tickets was a great start, the ending of JobKeeper means that parts of the tourism industry are without dedicated ongoing support while most international borders remain closed.
Air New Zealand had already started scheduling direct flights between Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney from this Friday before a date for the travel bubble had been announced.
The airline is also set to offer flights on a new route between Auckland and Hobart.
Qantas and Jetstar have confirmed they will operate 122 flights per week to 15 New Zealand destinations.
But Virgin Australia won’t be a part of it.
“While the airline remains committed to Trans-Tasman flying when the market fully recovers, we are mindful of evolving border requirements which add complexity to our business as we push ahead with plans to grow our core domestic Australian operators,” Virgin said in a statement.
“For this reason, we have suspended the sale of most New Zealand services until 31 October 2021. A limited schedule for flights to and from Queenstown will remain available for booking from 18 September 2021.”