New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that her country hopes to open a travel bubble with Australia by April next year and is working to finalise the necessary anti-coronavirus border measures.
Ardern told reporters on Monday that New Zealand’s cabinet had agreed “in principle” to open a quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel bubble in the first quarter of 2021 provided there are no significant virus outbreaks in either country.
“It is our intention to name a date for the commencement of quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel in the new year, once remaining details are locked down,” she said in Wellington.
New Zealand closed its borders in March and since then all international arrivals, including Australians, have been required to undergo two weeks of managed self-isolation.
The country has been widely praised for its strict handling of the coronavirus which has caused just 25 deaths in a population of five million.
Ardern said she would not allow unnecessary risks to be taken to reopen travel with Australia, which before the pandemic was New Zealand’s largest source of overseas visitors.
She said a key consideration was how to prevent border facilities being swamped if there was a considerable virus outbreak in Australia that prompted visiting New Zealanders to rush home.
“We’d need to make arrangements to have potentially thousands of New Zealanders brought back to New Zealand in numbers we would not necessarily be able to handle in managed isolation,” she said.
A trans-Tasman travel bubble has been under discussions for months and many Australian regions have allowed New Zealanders to travel without quarantine requirements since October, but New Zealand had not reciprocated this move.
Over the weekend, New Zealand announced a similar plan for a travel bubble with the tiny Cook Islands in the Pacific in the first quarter of next year.
Two-way quarantine-free travel with the Pacific nation, a realm country of New Zealand, would come before Australia’s, Ardern said.
Australia also closed its international borders early in the pandemic and now, apart from New Zealanders, only allows returning Australian citizens to fly into the country.