A quarantine-free transtasman travel bubble will get the green light today – and may start within two weeks.
The Australian reported this morning that the bubble was expected to begin next Monday, April 12, or the following Monday, April 19, according to the newspaper’s federal government and industry sources.
New Zealand’s Cabinet is meeting today to sign off a starting date, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will reveal in a press conference this afternoon.
Airlines and airports stressed yesterday that they were ready to go, and Air NZ is planning to operate quarantine-free flights from April 12 from Auckland to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
But that date, the Herald has been told, is not necessarily an indication of where Cabinet will land for a starting date, which won’t be today but is still expected to be before the end of the month.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry tourism chief John Hart told The Australian “the 19th was pretty much definite”. “That’s what the airlines have been told and they’ve already started bookings,” Hart said.
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The New Zealand tourism sector will be hoping it starts in time for the long Anzac holiday weekend, but systems still need to be set up and tested, and the Herald understands there is little appetite to rush that process.
Airlines will need flights for quarantine-free travellers only, who will then need to pass through an airport without mixing with transit passengers or returnees heading for MIQ.
Dedicated airline and airport staff for quarantine-free travel will also need to be kept from mixing with other airline and airport staff.
Today Ardern will stress her “flyer beware” warning because of the possibility of being stranded in Australia at short notice, and without insurance coverage or financial support from the NZ Government.
Flyers will be urged to have a contingency plan, such as money in the bank and a place to stay for potentially a reasonable length of time.
Ardern will also outline scenarios where the bubble might burst, though it will depend on the particular circumstances of any new outbreak, including the number of cases and contacts, or whether the source is linked to MIQ or is unknown.
A contained outbreak in one Australian state will likely see quarantine-free flights to other states remain open, except if people can freely travel in and out of the state where the cases are.
Cabinet may also decide to keep the bubble open for parts of a state where an outbreak has happened, as long as it was contained in a specific place or city.
Kiwis in a part of Australia suffering an outbreak will be told to follow the local public health advice; if that area goes into lockdown, that would also apply to any Kiwis there.
Likewise, any Australians in New Zealand would have to follow the lockdown rules here, if they were in a region that was put into level 3 or 4.
The Government could also direct Kiwis returning from Australia into quarantine or self-isolation at home if, for example, they had been a close contact of a case there.
People on both sides of the Tasman will be encouraged to use the Covid Tracer apps in each respective region, though this will not be mandated.
People won’t need to be vaccinated for bubble travel.
The bubble will also open the way for Australian PM Scott Morrison to come to New Zealand for the annual transtasman leaders’ meeting.
Ardern may be asked about what the Government plans to do with the extra MIQ capacity – up to 1800 rooms a fortnight – though Cabinet is not expected to make decisions about that today.
Australia Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan told the Australian a two-way travel bubble would be “another major step towards further confidence returning to our tourism industry”.
Before the pandemic, 7.27 million people travelled between Australia and New Zealand on 47,555 flights each year, making the Tasman one of the world’s busiest international routes.
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