The trans-Tasman travel bubble is taking shape but New Zealand has moved to smack down a push for flights to begin in July, with NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying that September is a more realistic timeframe.
Australian and New Zealand chambers of commerce proposed launching flights between Canberra and Wellington as a "proof of concept" and Canberra Airport this week asked would-be travellers to register their interest in flights on the capital city corridor for July 1 and July 2 – despite no airlines having signed up to run the route.
Air New Zealand quickly discounted the idea, with a spokesperson saying the Kiwi carrier "is not proposing Tasman operations until such time that the Tasman borders are open, and only with the support of governments on both sides."
The push from business and tourism groups in both countries come with the approach of the July school holidays and the peak of the New Zealand ski season, which runs from mid-June through to early October.
Government agencies, health experts, airports, Qantas and Air New Zealand are all part of the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group which is drawing up a detailed plan for how trans-Tasman travel would recommence, although this will need to be ratified by the Australian and New Zealand governments.
Ardern stressed yesterday that the blueprint was more a matter of laying the necessary groundwork rather than giving a green light to reconnect both countries without the need for mandatory 14-day quarantine periods.
Ready, set, fly
"We're focussed on making sure that as soon as we are ready we can move, we won't be constrained by needing to do any administrative or logistical work at our borders." Arden said yesterday, "so that when we're in a the position of our health officials and epidemiologists saying they are comfortable that New Zealand and Australia don't pose risks to one another, then we'll be ready to go."
"September is realistic, but I haven't given specifics around what date precisely. Needless to say, Prime Minister Morrison and I are very, very keen to see us moving towards an opening-up of our borders as soon as it's safe to do so."
Ardern has argued that New Zealand's border controls have been a key plank in the government's goal of eliminating the virus. The country now has only eight active coronavirus cases and no new cases reported in the past two weeks, while Australia ha 498 active cases including 90 new cases in the past seven days.
"Australia is still dealing with cases, so a little more progress is required," Ardern said. "I don’t want to raise expectations, particularly with the tourism sector, without knowing what is possible. But I think it is fair to say we are all very eager, we are just eager to do it safely.”
Passport, boarding pass, blood test...
Before hopping into that quick flight across the pond, travellers may need to undergo a COVID-19 test and carry a certificate confirming they are free from the disease.
Kevin Markwell, Professor of Tourism at Australia’s Southern Cross University, told Executive Traveller that to keep the trans-Tasman bubble from bursting, the list of eligibly passengers might be restricted to those with a lower risk of suffering serious illness “and perhaps requiring all travellers to download an app which could be used to track their movements within each country, in case this was necessary to trace contacts if any further outbreaks were to take place.”
“The ability to quickly put a halt on travel between the two countries will also need to be built into any strategy,” Markwell cautioned. “Whether people would be willing to risk travel if their travel insurance didn’t cover them for illness associated with COVID-19 is another consideration."