New Zealand’s cabinet has agreed to establish a quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia in the first quarter of 2021, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has said.
The Australian health minister Greg Hunt enthusiastically greeted the in-principle announcement, saying it was the “first step” in normalising international travel and anticipated the Australian government was “absolutely” likely to grant the necessary approvals.
Ardern said there was still a lot of work to be done before a concrete announcement could be made.
“It is our intention to name a date … in the new year, once remaining details are locked down,” Ardern said.
“New Zealand currently has the lowest Covid-19 mortality rate and lowest number of active cases of OECD countries.”
She said a number of issues needed to be worked through including how passengers from “safe zones” and those from Covid-19 affected countries could be segregated and how New Zealand would deal with a “flood” of returning Kiwis if there was a resurgence in Australia.
Hunt said Australia was ready to press go, as soon as New Zealand was ready.
“We understand it may take a few more weeks, but we are working constructively and patiently,” he said.
“New Zealand has been a great partner and I have previously spoken with my counterpart in New Zealand, they have done well through the pandemic.”
Now both countries could reap the “positive outcomes” of their pandemic strategies, he said, and “that just means more people getting to see their loved ones or people being able to take a well-earned break and that’s good for Australians, it is good for New Zealanders.”
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia was New Zealand’s largest international visitor market, accounting for almost half of all international visitor arrivals.
New Zealanders are already allowed to travel to most parts of Australia without isolating although they must quarantine for two weeks on their return. Australians are not allowed into New Zealand.
The announcement came two days after Ardern said that New Zealand would establish a travel bubble with the Cook Islands in early 2021. On Monday she said that bubble would be launched before the Australian bubble.
Chris Hipkins, New Zealand’s Covid-19 response minister, said he planned to visit Auckland airport on Tuesday to see possible arrangements, adding that airlines needed time to gear up staffing to cater for the additional traffic.
In a statement, Air New Zealand said the announcement was a “great step forward”.
“Our teams are busy preparing for recommencing quarantine-free travel. Safety is obviously a big priority for our airline, and we’ve been working closely with governments, relevant agencies and airports on what is required to keep our customers and staff safe once travel opens up,” said chief executive Greg Foran.
“We appreciate people are enthusiastic about travel, and we can assure customers that as soon as it is viable, Air New Zealand will be ready.”
Auckland airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said the company has completed work begun earlier this year to create separate pathways for travellers to and from countries New Zealand has formed a safe travel bubble with, and a second “health management area”, for those required to undergo either managed isolation or quarantine, as well as for transit passengers.
“Auckland Airport will be prepared to implement passenger separation once the government is ready to allow quarantine-free travel.”