New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has acknowledged a trans-Tasman bubble may be established sooner, with Australia willing to open on a state-by-state basis.
Speaking to New Zealand media, Ardern said a shift in approach by the Australian government “does open up opportunities” for travel without New Zealand’s current 14-day quarantine requirement.
“The Australians have moved on their previous plans,” she told TVNZ. “Previously, they wanted a whole of Australia approach and we said that would slow things down.
“They’re now moving to a hotspot regime where certain parts [of Australia] won’t be able to be part of free movement between Australia and across the Tasman.
“We’re working through the differences that would make for New Zealand and the arrangements we would need to ensure that if we’re opening up to one state, that border is contained to ensure its safe for New Zealanders.”
Ardern insisted New Zealand was still pursuing a COVID free strategy and the health of New Zealanders was her primary concern.
Talks of the trans-Tasman travel ‘bubble’ re-emerged at last Friday’s National Cabinet meeting, according to 9 News, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested the formation of an amended travel bubble.
Morrison reportedly proposed the trans-Tasman bubble could operate between regions with no known COVID-19 outbreaks, with news outlets optimistically flagging NSW as a destination where travel could take-off “within weeks”.
It comes as NSW recorded no new cases of coronavirus overnight, a feat that has not been achieved in three months by the state. Health officials warned community members to remain vigilant despite the news, during the school holidays.
However, Ardern said a trans-Tasman bubble to some states – naming Queensland specifically – should be possible before the end of the year, according to the Australian Associated Press.
“It is possible,” she said. “What we’d need to be assured of is when Australia is saying ‘we’ve got a hotspot over here’ that the border around that hotspot means we aren’t able to travel into the states we are engaging with on trans-Tasman travel.”
Ardern’s comments were a lot more optimistic than those made recently by Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran, who said he doesn’t believe international travel between the two countries will return this year.
Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said there had been “productive” discussion between prime ministers Ardern and Morrison on establishing a travel bubble.
“We need to be able to get some international travel, and if it starts off with NZ, that’s a good thing,” he said.
Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham told Nine’s Today show that he hoped Australians would be able to travel freely and safely to New Zealand by the end of the year.
“We’re working hard to make sure every safety precaution and measure is in place through our airports, our border protections, screening processes, to make sure people can travel safely between Australia and New Zealand without risk of encountering other air travellers that may be coming in from higher-risk countries,” Birmingham told the breakfast TV program.
However, travel would initially be one-way for New Zealanders to come to Australia, with quarantine-free travel also only available for residents of the country’s south island, off the back of coronavirus cases emerging in the country’s north island.
“Ultimately, whether New Zealand opens up to Australia will be a matter for New Zealand, but we are working to make sure we’re ready and hopefully we can see those steps taken this year,” Birmingham said.
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