Australia has extended its suspension of the New Zealand travel bubble until Sunday afternoon.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the decision was taken after it emerged the two new COVID cases recorded across the Tasman were also of the more transmissible South African variant.
Australia initially moved all recent Kiwi arrivals into hotel quarantine on Monday, but the suspension of the travel bubble was due to end on Thursday.
Minister Hunt said the B.1.351 variant is thought to be 50 per cent more transmissible and had already spread to 26 countries, including in two people who had arrived in Australia’s own hotel quarantine.
The decision was made based on advice from the country’s Health Protection Principal Committee and the recommendation of the acting chief medical officer.
Speaking shortly before the extension was announced, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern played down worries the ban could last for longer.
“The decision will ultimately be for them, I’ve never got the sense it would be a long-term position for them,” said PM Ardern. “They are ultimately just waiting for a bit more information.
“[We] identified that clearly there has been an event of some description that has affected guests from one contact, as in one person with a particular strain.
“That gives us a clue of what we need to look for.”
Her comments suggested that her position is thawing after earlier hinting the suspension could put a two-way trans-Tasman bubble in jeopardy.
“If we are to enter into a trans-Tasman bubble we will need to be able to give people confidence that we won’t see closures at the borders that happen with very short notice over incidents that we believe can be well managed domestically,” PM Ardern said earlier this week.
“I certainly shared my view [with PM Morrison] that this was a situation that was well under control, that we have had experiences in New Zealand with these situations in the past, if we’re going to run a trans-Tasman arrangement we need to be able to manage situations like this.”
“We are continuing to pursue [a two-way bubble] but what we will need to establish is a way that we can have that arrangement without seeing such disruption over events that may happen from time to time.”
A one-way ‘travel bubble’ opened in October 2020 allowing Kiwis to enter Australia without quarantine, but not the other way around.
However, two months later, New Zealand pledged to drop its border restrictions in the first quarter of 2021, making the bubble reciprocal.