Plans to allow flights between Australia and New Zealand appear to have significantly ramped up after Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government is now “working at speed” to open the route.
Australia even revealed it would consider initially allowing one-way travel to get things moving quicker.
“We’re not requiring that New Zealand allows Australians back immediately, but they are working towards it. So we’d like to be able to allow friends, family, tourists to come to Australia,” Minister Hunt said.
The news comes after Australian Aviation reported similar comments yesterday by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.
The acceleration in plans appears to coincide with both Victoria and Auckland regaining control of COVID-19 case numbers after a second spike of infections.
Hunt’s intervention marks the strongest comments so far that a deal between the two countries to allow quarantine-free travel could be close.
“I spoke with my New Zealand Health Minister counterpart last week as well as the high commissioner from New Zealand,” said Minister Hunt.
“We understand they have to consider Australia’s position, so we’re happy to do it as a one-way to start, but we would expect that given the numbers in Australia, New Zealand would be in a position to accept Australians shortly without having to quarantine.
“That’s a tremendous step forward. Both countries are working well and we’re working at speed.”
The news came alongside backing from influential business group the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum.
Chairman Ann Sherry indicated a bubble could first operate only with Australian states that have low COVID-19 case numbers.
“We’ve got to work out how to get back to some sort of travel … without the two weeks’ quarantine,” said Sherry. “Australia and New Zealand are each other’s largest markets, so it’s a very important opportunity.
“What it will do is test whether airlines, airports and people behave in the right way and we can manage it. If that’s the case we have a lot of other countries lined up behind including many of the Pacific nations who have remained COVID free.”
Yesterday, PM Ardern and Minister Birmingham both signalled that flights between the two countries could resume by the end of the year.
“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,” Minister Birmingham said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, PM Ardern said it was “possible” flights could resume sooner but added it would need to be on the condition of being able to identify and isolate hotspot areas quickly.
The comments are a surprise given that both countries appeared to kick the idea into the long grass.
In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said, “I certainly do not believe we will see anything across the Tasman this calendar year. It’s hard to believe it would be before March next year and could well be longer. If it comes back quicker, we’re going to pop some champagne.”