Australia-New Zealand travel bubble to begin on April 19

New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern says she expects to hold a face-to-face meeting with her Australian counterpart soon after travel bubble begins.

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 [Marty Melville/AFP]

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.

The two countries’ airlines said they plan to ramp up flights once the arrangement comes into effect.

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.

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.

Multi-billion trade

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.”

Air New Zealand Ltd and Australia’s Qantas Airways Ltd said they would increase flights between Australia and New Zealand to at least 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels once the travel bubble opens.

The restart of a more regular schedule on the popular routes will help the airlines reduce the amount of cash they are spending while they are almost wholly reliant on their domestic markets for revenue.

Before the pandemic, Australia was New Zealand’s largest tourism market and demand for travel between the two countries represented around 20 percent of Air New Zealand’s revenue, the carrier said in a statement.

Air New Zealand said it would operate 70 percent of its pre-pandemic capacity from April 19, while Qantas and its low-cost Jetstar plan to operate 83 percent of pre-pandemic capacity.

Australia’s New Daily newspaper reported 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 Ardern’s announcement 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.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies