The long-awaited 'trans-Tasman bubble' between Australia and New Zealand is starting to take shape, and will launch on October 16 with quarantine-free inbound travel from New Zealand into New South Wales and the Northern Territory.
“We want to open Australia up to the world, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told reporters. “This is the first part of it.”
McCormack added that any state or territory which agrees to the Commonwealth's hotspot definition will be allowed to join the bubble to accept Kiwi travellers and their tourism dollars.
Qantas and Jetstar will initially offer flights on the Sydney-Auckland and Sydney-Christchurch routes, with additional routes to follow as more states open up.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce welcomed the announcement, saying "the first phase of a travel bubble with New Zealand is the best news the industry has had in months" – and for the airline, "it means we’ll be able to get more planes back in the sky and more of our people back to work."
However, Virgin Australia says it remains "commercially reliant on two-way passenger traffic, therefore our approach to reintroducing services between Australia and New Zealand will ultimately be driven by customer demand."
"We’ll continue to review our network and reintroduce short-haul international services where demand and border restrictions allow us to."
Meanwhile, Kiwis who've hopped the pond to visit Australia will still have to quarantine for 14 days on their return home.
New Zealand, which eliminated local community transmission earlier this year and swiftly brought a more limited outbreak in Auckland under control, is keeping its border shuttered, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urging Kiwis to spend their tourist dollars in New Zealand instead.
McCormack also said that letting New Zealanders enter Australia without hotel quarantine would in turn help allow more Australians stranded overseas to return home.
"The establishment of quarantine-free travel to Australia from New Zealand will free up space and this is a really important point for around an additional 325 passengers a week to enter quarantine in Sydney."
"So that by freeing up those 325 places, that means that more Australians from more destinations overseas can indeed then fill that 325 vacancies."
Additional reporting by Bloomberg.
PREVIOUS [October 1, 2020] Prime Minister Scott Morrison has suggested NSW could be among the first states to open a 'travel bubble' with New Zealand without the need for mandatory hotel quarantine.
Speaking on Adelaide's FiveAA radio on Thursday morning, the Prime Minister said that South Australia was also a likely starter for a new state-by-state approach to re-opening travel across the Tasman.
"I would see South Australia as well as NSW in the front end of that arrangement because they've both taken their borders down," he said.
However, states which keep their borders closed – including Queensland and Western Australia – would not be considered for the COVID-free air corridor between the two island nations.
"For states who still have borders up and are insisting on quarantine for people, say, in Sydney to go to Brisbane, we can't have people from New Zealand coming in and taking up those [hotel quarantine] places for Australians coming home [from overseas]," Morrison stated.
The on-again, off-again bubble
Plans for a trans-Tasman travel bubble began to take shape in May, when Morrison described the two counties as being on "similar trajectories" in tackling COVID-19, said.
"If there is any country in the world with whom we can reconnect with first, undoubtedly that's New Zealand," he noted at the time.
However, subsequent outbreaks in Melbourne, Sydney and then Auckland put those plans on the back-burner, and the focus began shifting to more defined 'air bridges' such as certain states in Australia and potentially only New Zealand's South Island.
The Prime Minister today reiterated that a first step in restarting trans-Tasman travel would be one-way, for New Zealanders visiting approved Australian states, with a reciprocal arrangement to follow soon after.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is facing a general election on October 17, remarked this week that two-way bubbles could be in place before the end of the year.
"What we would need to be assured of is that when Australia is saying 'okay we've got a hotspot over here' – that the border around that hotspot means that people aren't able to travel into the states where we are engaging with trans-Tasman travel," she told TVNZ.