Australians hoping for a summer holiday in New Zealand to see family and friends will need to think again.
Quarantine-free travel between the two neighbours is unlikely to resume for at least another six months, according to the head of New Zealand’s biggest airline.
“I certainly do not believe we will see anything across the Tasman this calendar year,” Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Greg Foran told The Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s hard to believe it would be before March next year, and could well be longer.”
“If it comes back quicker, we’re going to pop some champagne.”
More delays for the bubble
The prospect of a trans-Tasman travel bubble gained momentum in May 2020 as the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand planned a pathway to reopening their respective borders to create a COVID-safe air corridor.
However, subsequent 'second wave' flare-ups in Melbourne and Auckland have indicated the stubborn resilience of the coronavirus: and even if a vaccine arrives at the start of 2021, Foran said its expected low efficacy rate - which might only be 50% – plus the chance of reinfection all push a restart of Australia-New Zealand travel even further back.
Australia and New Zealand remain each other’s number one travel destination: 2019 saw some 2.6 million residents of each country jetting back and forth across the Tasman, according to Stats NZ.
In the short term, Air New Zealand's domestic capacity is back to almost 85% of pre-COVID levels, and Foran thinks it could reach 90-100% by December as Kiwis explore their own backyard rather than jet overseas.
"There’s pent up demand," Foran said. "People are cabin crazy and they want to get out."
Australia's domestic recovery continues to be hampered by state border closures – New Zealand, lacking states, has just local and national governments – which see Qantas still flying at around 20% of pre-COVID domestic capacity.
This has led Qantas CEO Alan Joyce to lead the call for a “national framework” on state border closures be based on facts and, medical advice and defined standards, rather than politics.
The alternative, he claims, is a continuation of inconsistency and confusion which is choking not just airlines and tourism but the country's broader economic recovery.
“Nobody has an issue with what happened with Victoria – those borders needed to be closed,” Joyce said last month. However, he said “we still don’t understand why states with zero cases for a long time have borders closed to states with zero cases.”
“That doesn’t seem to make any medical sense, or match any (medical) advice that we’ve seen. Surely, these decisions should be based on the facts, the health advice, and the level of cases that we’re seeing around the various states.”
Additional material by Bloomberg