New Zealand has paused the trans-Tasman bubble to Victoria for at least four days starting on Friday.
The new rules mean anyone who has been in the Australian state from 1:59am (NZT) on 16 July cannot cross the Tasman regardless of where they catch their flight.
It comes after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Thursday afternoon that the state would head into a five-day snap lockdown, after cases rose to 16. Already 1,500 primary close contacts have been asked to fully isolate.
The country’s COVID-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, said, “As with previous pauses, we acknowledge the frustration and inconvenience that comes with any interruption to trans-Tasman travel, but given the ongoing level of uncertainty around transmission in Melbourne, this is the right action to take.
“It is also in keeping with our consistently cautious approach to prevent COVID-19 entering the New Zealand community.”
Air New Zealand confirmed it will operate NZ250 MEL-WLG and NZ126 MEL-AKL on Thursday night as planned but then all flights would be cancelled.
“A reduced number of passenger flights will continue to operate to Melbourne, ensuring customers currently visiting New Zealand from Victoria can return home,” the airline said in a statement. “Cargo services will continue to operate between New Zealand and Victoria.”
The business added that affected customers who had booked directly with Air New Zealand are able to change their booking online with no change fee.
Customers from non-paused states will be able to continue to fly, however, are now required to take a pre-flight COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure in a significant change to the rules introduced earlier this month.
New Zealand only re-started its quarantine-free trans-Tasman arrangement with much of Australia on 5 July. Currently, NSW is also on pause.
Earlier this week, Australian Aviation reported how Air New Zealand’s ‘repatriation’ flights taking Kiwis in COVID-hit NSW back home sold out in just 15 minutes, with the first departing on Tuesday.
Those on the so-called mercy flights will have to undertake two-week quarantine in the country’s government-run managed isolation facilities (MIQ).
Nine flights are currently scheduled between 13 and 23 July. Of these, two will fly into Christchurch, with the remaining to Auckland.
According to Air New Zealand, when booking a ‘managed return’ seat on a repatriation flight, customers will automatically have their MIQ place confirmed
When more MIQ allocations are provided, more seats will be made available for booking, according to the airline.
“We would love to be able to bring more Kiwis home to their families, but we’re limited by the availability of MIQ spots,” said Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanna Geraghty.
“Only between 40-60 seats per flight will be available to be booked by customers as these are directly linked to MIQ spots.
“Flights will be available on a first-in, first-served basis.”
Geraghty added that around 20 per cent of all MIQ allocations will be reserved for cases on compassionate grounds, which is managed through the New Zealand government.
Customers wishing to apply for compassionate grounds must do so via the government directly, the airline said.
Quarantine-free travel between the two countries only started in April, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had warned the agreement would be temporarily halted in the event of a lockdown.