Passengers from COVID-hit Papua New Guinea were allowed into the ‘green zone’ at Brisbane Airport to mingle with travellers from Australia and New Zealand for two hours on Thursday.
The airport said the trans-Tasman bubble breach was due to “human error” and that “thorough cleaning” of the area has been undertaken.
In order to keep quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand safe, passengers from the two countries are separated from other international travellers in a so-called green zone.
That means that there will be no passengers on ‘bubble’ flights who have come from anywhere but Australia or New Zealand in the last 14 days.
They are also flown by crew who have not flown on any higher risk routes for a set period of time.
Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) said on Thursday evening it was working with Queensland Health to investigate the circumstances of the breach and “unreservedly apologises”.
“At approximately 9:30am, two transit passengers arrived on a ‘red’ flight from Port Moresby and proceeded through screening to transit as per normal process,” the business said in a statement.
“Initial review of CCTV indicates that at approximately 9:55am, these passengers were incorrectly allowed into the ‘green zone’.
“The passengers were seated at a retail outlet within the green zone until approximately 11:20am.
“The passengers then used the bathroom and attended another retailer before they were located by BAC staff and returned to the ‘red zone’. They were in the green zone for just under two hours.
“Thorough cleaning of all areas mentioned above has since been conducted, and we can confirm all workers and passengers within the green area were wearing PPE.
“Three ‘green’ flights departed within this two-hour period to New Zealand, with approximately 390 passengers on these services. At this stage, it is believed only a handful of passengers were in the vicinity of the two ‘red’ passengers at any time.
“BAC is conducting a thorough investigation and unreservedly apologises for this human error.”
Two weeks ago, World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus said the situation in Papua New Guinea was “a perfect example of why vaccine equity is so important”.
It comes just days after New Zealand restarted the trans-Tasman bubble to WA after Perth’s lockdown ended.
Quarantine-free flights were suspended last week after Perth and the Peel region entered a three-day shutdown. WA imposed the restrictions after it emerged a Victorian man who had spent five days in Perth subsequently tested positive for COVID.
Quarantine-free travel only started this month, but New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern previously warned the agreement would be temporarily halted in the event of a lockdown, under what she called “flyer beware”.
In the event of a COVID cluster, the country will reserve the right to continue, pause or suspend the arrangement.
If a case was found that was clearly linked to a quarantine facility staff member and was well contained, travel will likely continue.
If a case was found that was not clearly linked, and a state responded by a short lockdown to identify more information, New Zealand would likely pause flights from that state in the same way as flights have been paused previously.
But if multiple cases occurred from an unknown origin, flights would likely be suspended for a set period of time.
The two-way arrangement officially opened on 18 April at 11:59pm and on Monday Air New Zealand operated 30 flights, and Qantas and Jetstar 29.
Qantas and Jetstar will operate 83 per cent of their pre-COVID capacity to New Zealand now the bubble has launched, and also start two new routes from Auckland to Cairns and the Gold Coast.
In total, the Qantas Group revealed will operate up to 122 return flights per week across the Tasman on 15 routes, or 52,000 seats each week. It has been operating at just 3 per cent pre-COVID capacity during the current one-way arrangement.
Air New Zealand’s 30 daily flights are set to grow to more than 300 per week operating from Brisbane, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Perth and Sydney into Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.