A two-way Australia–New Zealand travel bubble could open in as little as three weeks.
The New Zealand Herald reports that the country’s cabinet will meet on Monday and quarantine-free travel could start as soon as airlines are able to make the necessary preparations to restart flying.
A one-way ‘travel bubble’ first opened in October 2020 allowing Kiwis to enter Australia without quarantine, but not the other way around.
Both countries indicated it would be made reciprocal in the first quarter of 2021, however, the move was postponed due to numerous small outbreaks of COVID in both countries.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this week, “I am confident that we will be able to do it soon. We haven’t put precise dates around it just because we want to make sure when we announce it, we can give something definitive to people.”
New Zealand’s Covid-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, later told parliament the bubble couldn’t be created until a few issues are resolved, such as what happens if it’s suspended, test requirements in both countries and how compatible test and trace systems are.
Last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was “happy” to make the bubble reciprocal when his trans-Tasman counterpart gave the green light.
“If the New Zealand government doesn’t wish Australians to visit New Zealand and spend money in Queenstown or Wellington, or other parts of a country, that’s a matter for them, it has always been a matter for them,” he said.
Any opening of the bubble soon would likely come as a surprise to many industry figures, who had written off the move until later this year.
In February, for instance, Auckland Airport predicted trans-Tasman travel wouldn’t restart in the first half of 2021 when it unveiled its six-month financial results.
“Although the government remains committed to restarting two-way trans-Tasman travel, and we support this, for the purposes of this underlying earnings guidance we have assumed there will be no material quarantine-free, two-way Tasman travel during the remainder of the 2021 financial year,” said Auckland Airport’s chief executive Adrian Littlewood. “It also assumes no further lockdowns of an extended duration during the period.”
Air New Zealand only resumed quarantine-free flights to Sydney and Melbourne last week after the Australian government ended its latest suspension of the one-way travel bubble.
However, the Queensland government has said it won’t allow similar flights to Brisbane until 20 March.