New Zealand will pause the trans-Tasman bubble with Victoria on Tuesday evening for at least 72 hours after the state’s new COVID cluster grew to nine.
The country’s minister in charge of responding to the virus said the decision was a “close call” but the correct one given many unknowns about the outbreak remain.
Victoria’s current cluster on Tuesday more than doubled from just four on Monday, though in positive news one of the latest cases is now believed to be the source of the outbreak.
“While the case announced today is not unexpected as a contact of a case announced yesterday, New Zealand officials have assessed that the most cautious option is to pause the travel bubble with Victoria as there are still several unknowns with the outbreak,” COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.
“The government understands the disruption this will temporarily cause affected passengers. It was a close call but the correct one given the current unknowns.”
Those in New Zealand who visited one of the exposure sites have been asked to contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453 now to receive testing and isolation advice.
More broadly, anyone in Melbourne since 11 May has been asked to monitor for symptoms.
The pause will come into effect at 7:59pm NZST. It will coincide with new restrictions in Victoria that mean masks will now be mandatory indoors, private gatherings limited to five and public gatherings limited to 30 people.
“With this fifth case what has been reassuring is that all of his close contacts have tested negative so for many of the days that he has been interacting with others he was probably not infectious because we identified and tested and they tested negative,” said Victoria chief health officer Brett Sutton.
“There was clearly someone who was not identified, probably a casual contact that he could not recall because he did not know.
“It is reassuring to have a case potentially linked to the four yesterday.”
When New Zealand announced it was starting quarantine-free travel, it said it was doing so under the guidance of what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern 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 initially, Air New Zealand operated 30 flights on launch day, 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 had 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.