In huge news, Australia and New Zealand have negotiated a deal to get the trans-Tasman travel ‘bubble’ off the ground in two weeks’ time.
The Australian government’s Department of Health has undertaken a public health risk assessment of COVID-19 in New Zealand, which indicated that it posed a low risk of COVID-19 transmission to Australia.
Passengers from New Zealand will be able to travel to Australia, quarantine-free, from Friday 16 October, provided they have not been in an area designated as a COVID-19 hotspot in New Zealand in the preceding 14 days.
As has been announced already, the Australian government is defining a hotspot using a three-day rolling average of three locally acquired cases per day.
There are currently no COVID-19 hotspots in New Zealand. The last locally acquired case with an unidentified epidemiological source occurred on 21 August 2020.
The federal government said it was working closely with New Zealand authorities to ensure it is notified promptly of any outbreaks there.
Any state or territory that imposes travel restrictions consistent with the Australian government-defined hotspot, as advised by acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly, will be able to participate in the ‘Safe Travel Zone’.
After offering these arrangements at the latest National Cabinet, the government said it had reached agreement for this first stage of quarantine-free travel with New South Wales and the Northern Territory.
Normal visa requirements will apply and travellers returning to New Zealand from Australia will be required to comply with New Zealand’s travel requirements.
The Australian government will provide increased Australian Border Force support at airports to support the establishment of ‘green lanes’ of travel for Kiwis and collecting information on arrivals to assist with contact tracing if required.
The federal government expects the establishment of quarantine-free travel to Australia from New Zealand will also free up space for around an additional 325 passengers a week to enter quarantine in Sydney.
Unfortunately though, there’s no word yet on when Aussies will be allowed to head over to New Zealand.
Qantas and Jetstar will operate six and three Sydney-Auckland services respectively per week from 16 October. Qantas will also operate four Sydney-Christchurch flights per week.
As more cities in Australia open up, the group said this is likely to include new routes direct from New Zealand that it has not previously offered, to make the most of the easing restrictions.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said this first phase of a travel bubble with New Zealand was “the best news the industry has had in months”.
“It’s great for the family and friends who can be reunited and for people needing to travel for a job,” he said in a statement.
“It means we’ll be able to get more planes back in the sky and more of our people back to work.
“New Zealand was Australia’s second-biggest source of visitors before the pandemic. It’s obviously about to go straight to number one.
“Opening borders as part of evolving how we manage the pandemic has been a difficult issue and the federal government has shown important leadership on this. It’s a huge positive for a lot of people and a lot of sectors.”
A Virgin Australia spokesman said the new trans-Tasman travel zone was “a welcomed first step” and will help the aviation sector to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are, however, commercially reliant on two-way passenger traffic; therefore, our approach to reintroducing services between Australia and New Zealand will ultimately be driven by customer demand,” the spokesman said.
“We’ll continue to review our network and reintroduce short-haul international services where demand and border restrictions allow us to.”
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