New Zealand will completely close the quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel bubble for eight weeks following Australia's recent coronavirus outbreak, driven by the more contagious Delta variant.
Citing "an abundance of caution", NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Ministry of Health believed there was now a greater risk to New Zealand from the Delta variant than when bubble opened in April 2021.
"We've always said that our response would evolve as the virus evolved.... Covid has changed, and so we must."
As a result, quarantine-free travel from Australia will be suspended from 11.59pm Friday July 23 (NZ time).
Ardern said the suspension "will be in place for at least the next eight weeks," and would be "subject to review" to either extend it further or reopen the bubble.
"We do want the bubble to resume, we remain committed to it, but we need to be certain the outbreak is contained and ensure that New Zealand's elimination strategy not be at risk," she said, adding that she had been in discussions with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
For the next seven days, Air New Zealand will operate "managed return flights" for Kiwis from all Australia states and territories. These will require proof of a negative pre-departure test, with additional quarantine and isolation measures for returnees from NSW and Victoria.
Ardern said that over 200,000 people have flown between Australia and New Zealand since the long-awaited bubble opened in late April.
However, in recent weeks it was paused for travellers from NSW, Victoria and South Australia, while visitors from other states had to undergo a pre-departure COVID-19 test costing $150 per passenger, even for travellers who were already fully vaccinated.