Coronavirus

The Australia-New Zealand travel bubble has been announced. Here's how it will work

Eleven months after leaders first agreed to a trans-Tasman bubble in principle, two-way quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand has been formally announced.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has revealed the much-anticipated opening date of the two-way trans-Tasman travel bubble with Australia

From 11.59pm Wellington time on 18 April (9:59pm AEST), the NZ government will lift the requirement for Australian travellers to have to quarantine upon arrival.

Until now, travel between the countries was a one-way street that allowed people from New Zealand to travel to Australia quarantine-free, but not vice versa. 

The travel bubble is not only expected to help reunite families separated across the Tasman by the coronavirus pandemic, but also give New Zealand’s tourism sector a big shot in the arm.

But before you rush off and book your flights, there are a few things you need to know.

How is it going to work? 

While travel across the ditch won’t be exactly as it was pre-COVID-19, things are still fairly straightforward.

Passengers will need to:

  • Provide NZ authorities with information on how they can be contacted while in the country
  • Wear a mask on the flight
  • Download and use the NZ COVID Tracer app

Ms Ardern said passengers will not be able to travel if they have cold or flu symptoms.

Travellers are not required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Ms Ardern said officials would conduct random temperature checks on those touching down in the country “as an extra precaution”, and travellers from Australia would not have contact at airports with people arriving from other parts of the world.

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Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand have confirmed they will be taking part in the bubble, though Virgin won’t resume all of its New Zealand services until 31 October.

“While the airline remains committed to Trans-Tasman flying when the market fully recovers, we are mindful of evolving border requirements which add complexity to our business as we push ahead with plans to grow our core domestic Australia operation,” a Virgin spokesperson said in a statement. 

A limited schedule for Virgin flights to and from Queenstown will remain available for booking from 18 September.

Could the bubble close in the event of an outbreak? 

Yes.

Ms Ardern said incoming travellers should be prepared to have their plans changed at short notice if there’s a new outbreak of COVID-19. 

But she said an outbreak in one Australian jurisdiction would be unlikely to cause the bubble to close entirely.

"Although [the bubble] adds an extra layer of complication for us as we manage potential hot spots in different states, it also gives us a level of flexibility. It does mean we have the ability, if we believe it safe to do so, to potentially pause or suspend flights in one state whilst, if another state remains unaffected, continuing travel there,” she said.

“That flexibility exists, but we'll be using it cautiously and wisely.”

Ms Ardern said the government was “not anticipating” charging travellers from Australia for quarantine if they end up suddenly needing to due to an outbreak in the state they’ve come from.

Is Australia opening bubbles with other countries?

No others have been announced yet, but there is potential for more. 

It was reported last month the Australian government was working on a plan to create a travel bubble with Singapore.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday that establishing travel bubbles was something that is “regularly assessed” by Australia’s chief medical officer, but no new announcements would be made in the immediate future.

“We have looked at places like Singapore and Japan and South Korea, and countries like this, but at this stage, we are not in a position to move forward on any of those at this point,” he told reporters in Canberra. 

“As more of the world, and particularly our own country, is vaccinated, we can start moving to managing this virus a lot more like other viruses that we do with a more standard way.

“That is our objective, but we will let the evidence lead us on that. At this point, the evidence is not strong enough to give us a good pointer about when we will arrive at that.”

Other countries have outlined plans for special travel zones, but the New Zealand-Australia arrangement is among the first in the world that does not involve mandatory COVID-19 testing.

Overseas, Taiwan and Palau launched a travel bubble at the start of this month. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania launched Europe’s first quarantine-free bubble last May, but it closed in September.

With Nadine Silva.

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