Flights between New Zealand and Hobart could resume next month for the first time in a generation despite a recent outbreak of COVID cases across the Tasman.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has revealed his capital’s airport has almost completed its biosecurity and customs upgrades necessary to welcome international flights.
“Out of all of the countries that are our close neighbours, the one that we have the strongest and most likely chance of having a travel bubble operating would be New Zealand,” Premier Gutwein said. “I think it’s important that we’ve taken the steps so we can play a part in that.”
Flights had been due to resume in January 2021 for the first time since 1996, but have been seemingly derailed by COVID outbreaks in both Australia and New Zealand.
When Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the deal in November to re-stablish a travel link, he said it would include 130 direct flights from Hobart each year, with three departing per week in warmer months, and two in winter.
“This has been an incredibly tough year for Australians, and particularly our tourism and hospitality sectors, but the deal will mean tourists from low-risk areas can come to sample Tasmania’s incredible experiences, sights and produce,” PM Morrison said.
The plan to restart travel between the two countries will reportedly cost the federal government $50 million, while state governments will contribute $10 million for structural upgrades. They will mark the first regular flights since 1996, when Air New Zealand pulled the route due to its viability.
Before coronavirus hit, documents released to Hobart MPs pre-COVID predicted restarting the route could generate more than $100 million in tourism.
Australia ended its short suspension of the one-way New Zealand travel bubble on the weekend following no further transmission of COVID.
The initial decision was taken after it emerged the two new COVID cases recorded across the Tasman were also of the more transmissible South African variant.
Health Minister Greg 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.