New Zealand has pledged to drop its border restrictions to Australia in the first quarter of 2021.
Speaking on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would name the exact date in the new year and added any opening wouldn’t take place until contingencies were in place to deal with a future COVID outbreak.
The news comes after a one-way ‘travel bubble’ opened in October allowing Kiwis to enter Australia without quarantine, but not the other way around. It had initially been hoped two-way travel would be permitted before the end of 2020.
“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,” said PM Ardern.
“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.”
PM Ardern also added that restrictions wouldn’t be dropped until the country has a plan to get citizens home in the event of a resurgence in infection.
“And it’s not a hypothetical. There have been several,” PM Ardern said. “We would need to make arrangements to have potentially thousands of New Zealanders brought back to New Zealand in numbers that we wouldn’t be able to facilitate, necessarily, managed isolation.”
The cautious approach follows earlier comments by then-Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters signalling the bubble would not become reciprocal until “we know it’s safe to”.
“I think in Australia’s case, we are only a few days away to be able to say certain states are on top of [the virus] so to speak,” said Peters. “Australia is going so well then you had that huge spike in Melbourne and that’s very, very sad. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Since the one-way bubble has opened, all Australian states and territories have opened to NZ except WA, which still requires 14 days quarantine on arrival.
On Friday, Australian Aviation reported how Brisbane Airport estimated its domestic passenger traffic would pass 30,000 for the first time post-COVID.
The achievement is significant given its numbers averaged just 1,830 per day during the lowest point of the pandemic in April. Queensland opened its borders to both greater Sydney and Victoria on 1 December, re-establishing Australia’s Golden Triangle.
The airport’s chief executive, Gert-Jan de Graaff, said the figures are a welcome sight given the “incredibly slow and challenging year”.
“We still have some way to go before we reach complete recovery of our domestic network, but the last few weeks have shown Australians are ready and willing to explore our beautiful state and country once more,” said Graaff.