Quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand is finally on the horizon, with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirming she will announce a start date for the long-awaited trans-Tasman bubble on April 6.
The governments of both countries are finalising details such as how each would respond in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, including isolation procedures.
"I'm cautious," Ardern said yesterday. "People know that about the way that we've been operating. We have to make sure we don’t jeopardise domestic tourism by having outbreaks in NZ and that’s why we have to get this right."
NZ media outlet Stuff has reported that the Government has indicated "there would be a three-week notice period for all airports around the country to prepare for the bubble opening," pointing to a potential start of late April or early May.
A reopening of travel would not only see many family and friends reconnecting, but would come in time for Australians to take advantage of New Zealand's ski season.
Air New Zealand is already gearing up to increase flights across the pond, with Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia also eager to capitalise on an expected surge of flyers.
Australian and New Zealand airports participating in the bubble would be divided into 'green zones' for travellers coming in from either country, and 'red zones' for passengers arriving from elsewhere in the world for transit or quarantine.
Ardern has also hinted that any COVID-safe travel corridor between New Zealand and Australia might begin on a state-by-state basis.
"Our view is, rather than trying to work through a solution that sees all of Australia with New Zealand, that we can work through an arrangement that sees us operating with some states but not others," she said.
New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have now opened their borders to quarantine-free travel for Kiwi visitors under a "safe travel zone" arrangement, although passengers returning to New Zealand still having to spend 14 days in isolation.
Professor Brendan Murphy, Secretary of Australia's Department of Health, admitted "New Zealand have expressed concerns when different states were more anxious about recent New Zealand outbreaks."
"I think we've now got a very good, consistent approach with our Eastern Seaboard states, and they're very prepared to work together and stick with a common approach, which would be one that the Federal Government will lead," Murphy said at a press conference yesterday,
"If we open a bubble, we have to be confident that both sides of the Tasman will be prepared to respond to small outbreaks without stopping the bubble."
Ready to fly
Meanwhile, Australia has revised its biosecurity laws – which currently ban all international travel without special exemption – to allow anyone who has been in Australia for at least 14 days to travel "directly to New Zealand."
Australia and New Zealand have long been 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.
The Australia-New Zealand bubble was first proposed in May 2020; at the time, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the two counties were on "similar trajectories" in tackling COVID-19.
"If there is any country in the world with whom we can reconnect with first, undoubtedly that's New Zealand.”
However, ongoing efforts to establish the bubble were daunted by a series of COVID-19 outbreaks on both sides of the Tasman.