New Zealand’s Prime Minister has confirmed the country’s national cabinet has agreed to let Aussies travel quarantine-free to New Zealand from early next year.
Jacinda Ardern told a press conference that was streamed live on her Facebook page that while a date hasn’t been announced for a two-way travel ‘bubble’, she believes it will be in the first quarter of next year.
“It is our intention to name a date for the commencement of trans-Tasman quarantine free travel in the new year, once remaining details are locked down,” she said.
“But I think, for now, New Zealanders by and large appreciate the approach of the government to ensure that we are not taking on an unnecessary risk as we’re going into the summer.
“We’ve never been wanting to put specific dates prematurely before we’ve made final decisions because people make plans, people book flights and people may potentially have quarantine bookings that they could cancel.
“We don’t want anyone to do that prematurely until we have certainty around when it will open.”
Ardern said the in-principle decision is dependant on whether Australia manages to go 28 days without a community transmission and would continue to be once the border is open.
Australia’s Health Minister, Greg Hunt, described Ardern’s announcement as “second half of the equation”, and said the federal government would “absolutely” approve the agreement.
“We consciously opened up Australia to people coming from NZ because their case numbers were negligible, and we knew there would come a time when our case numbers would give them confidence,” he said according to ABC News.
“Now this gives the chance for New Zealanders [and] Australians to visit New Zealand … without having to quarantine.
“It’s the first step on a return to international normality.”
Margy Osmond, CEO of Australia’s Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF) said the announcement was a significant development for tourism and aviation.
“Australians and New Zealanders alike will be popping champagne corks today at the prospect of reuniting with friends and family on both sides of the ditch in the first part of the new year,” she said.
“Australians want this to happen, with recent Newgate Research for TTF revealing that 82 per cent of us want to see full international travel with New Zealand resume over the next three months.
“We also know that after a torrid year for the sector, tourism, travel, accommodation and aviation businesses will now be rejoicing at the prospect of more Australian and New Zealand tourists, backpackers and businesspeople crossing the Tasman once again in the not-too-distant future.
“Our Australian government has also stated it would implement the agreement as soon as New Zealand is ready, and TTF, as part of a working group, will continue to work with both governments to finalise remaining details including a full ‘bubble’ start date to be announced in the new year.
“Today is the next important step on our long and challenging journey back to a more widespread international tourism recovery.”
Virgin Australia also welcomed the NZ government’s in-principle decision, with a spokesman for the airline saying that it provides further confidence for travellers and those looking to do business across the Tasman.
“While services are currently on sale from late March, the decision gives us time to prepare aircraft and crew for re-entry into New Zealand skies,” the spokesman said.
“We’ll continue to review and adjust our schedule in line with demand, and the start dates for quarantine-free travel being worked through by the respective governments.”
Virgin has more than 70 services to New Zealand per week currently on sale from 28 March 2021.
Customers impacted by previously cancelled trans-Tasman services as a result of COVID-19 will be able to use their Future Flight Credits on Virgin-operated services to New Zealand.
Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA) chief executive Michael Johnson said New Zealand’s agreement will deliver a much-needed boost for Australian hotels in 2021.
“We know that Australia’s hotels desperately need international borders to open up before we can see a sustained recovery from what has been the most challenging year in living memory,” he said.
“Domestic tourism has assisted hotels greatly in recent months. However, as we head into 2021, we do need to see travellers from overseas to safeguard Australian jobs in the accommodation sector.
“Australia has traditionally been a key destination for New Zealand holidaymakers, and we look forward to these travellers returning.
“Similarly, the trans-Tasman travel ‘bubble’ will allow business visitation from New Zealand, which provides an important revenue source for many Australian hotels.
“We hope this arrangement is but one of many that we see emerge in the new year, as other countries successfully contain COVID-19 and vaccines are distributed.”
Ardern’s announcement is consistent with predictions made by both Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand last month at Travel DAZE 2020.
However, it may thwart Qantas CEO Alan Joyce’s premonition that a vaccine would kick-start international travel before travel ‘bubbles’ eventuate.
Ardern has previously warned that Aussies wouldn’t be permitted to travel to New Zealand this year, and also said it was incidents like the outbreak scare in South Australia that cemented her decision.
In other travel ‘bubble’ news, New Zealand’s PM and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brow agreed on an arrangement to set up two-way, quarantine-free travel between the two destinations.
“The arrangement recognises the special ties between New Zealand and the Cook Islands. It will allow people to travel more easily between our two countries while acknowledging that the priority remains to protect our populations from COVID-19,” Ardern said.
Both Prime Ministers and their cabinets have instructed officials to continue working together to put in place all measures required to safely recommence two-way quarantine-free travel in the first quarter of 2021.
[PLEASE NOTE: THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE PUBLISHING TO INCLUDE COMMENTARY FROM AUSTRALIA’S HEALTH MINISTER, THE TOURISM & TRANSPORT FORUM, VIRGIN AUSTRALIA, AND TOURISM ACCOMMODATION AUSTRALIA.]
Featured image source: Ministry of Justice of New Zealand