Pack your passport and snow gear away: the Australia-New Zealand 'travel bubble' won't be happening this winter, and it might not happen at all until next year.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has scotched previous plans to reopen flights across the Tasman in the coming months following a surge of new coronavirus cases in Victoria and New South Wales, saying the prospects of that trans-Tasman travel bubble is now a "long way off."
“Anywhere where we have Covid-free travel they have to be free of community transmission for a period of time – obviously this is going to be some time away now for Australia,” Ardern told The AM Show, reiterating that before quarantine-free travel could commence to any country, including Australia, that country would need to record 28 continual days with no community transmission.
By comparison, it's been over three months since New Zealand last saw a case of Covid-19 with no known source.
“The trans-Tasman bubble, obviously not anytime soon," Ardern predicted. “It will be on the backburner for several months."
Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran sees an even longer stretch ahead before Aussies ands Kiwis can dust off their passports.
While the travel bubble “felt a little bit closer eight weeks ago," Foran told a parliamentary committee last week, "now it feels that possibly, that maybe, at best, (it could come at) the end of this year, and probably more likely next year."
How the trans-Tasman bubble burst
The establishment of a Covid-safe corridor between the two countries was first floated in May, when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed discussions with Ardern due to the two counties being on "similar trajectories" in tackling COVID-19, Morrison said.
"If there is any country in the world with whom we can reconnect with first, undoubtedly that's New Zealand.”
Ardern agreed that both countries “have the same goal in mind at the moment – get it under control in our own countries and then we can talk about together what we’re able to achieve."
A detailed blueprint for how travel would reopen was to be tabled at the end of June by the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group comprised of government agencies, health experts, airports, Qantas and Air New Zealand, with hopes that passenger flights might recommence in July or August, although Ardern later said that September was a more realistic timeframe.
As Melbourne's 'second wave' took hold in July and Victoria found itself shut off from other states, Ardern suggested that trans-Tasman travel might resume on a state-by-state basis.
"We have a system that would work with a state-by-state approach or a whole country approach," she noted. "If it's whole country we'll be waiting, because obviously there is community transmission in Victoria and we can't risk that."
With a New Zealand general election now set for September 19, reopening the country to some Australia travellers – especially with the ski season now underway – could deliver a massive tourism-driven boost to the economy, but carries the risk of a vote-flipping coronavirus outbreak, and Arden says she won't be moved on her desire to eradicate Covid-19 from New Zealand.