Australia and New Zealand have finalised an initial deal to create a travel bubble between the two countries.
Detailing the move at a press conference Friday afternoon, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said it would allow New Zealanders to travel to certain Australian states initially.
“The establishment of a travel zone between Australia and New Zealand has been finalised. Today, I'm announcing the first stage of this arrangement, under which quarantine-free travel will be possible from New Zealand to New South Wales and the Northern Territory from Friday 16 October,” he said.
“This will allow New Zealanders and other residents in New Zealand who have not been in an area designated as a Covid-19 hotspot in New Zealand in the preceding 14 days to travel quarantine-free to Australia.”
The trans-Tasman bubble has been in the works for months but was put on hold after the second wave outbreak in Victoria.
The confirmation of the travel bubble comes just days after Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said opening up an international border with NZ would be a "great step".
The deputy PM said it’s the first stage in what the government hopes will be a more complete trans-Tasman bubble between the two countries.
“The Commonwealth is comfortable in recommending that these people not be placed in mandatory quarantine,” Mr McCormack.
The government says the decision will help Australians still stranded overseas to return home because hotel quarantine spots will not be taken up by New Zealanders coming into the country.
South Australia and WA expected to join soon
States such as South Australia, WA and Queensland are expected to join the agreement to accept New Zealand travellers soon.
The sticking point has been around a difference in a definition for what constitutes a coronavirus hotspot between the Commonwealth and some of the states that continue to have tight domestic border controls.
“Any state or territory that imposes travel restrictions consistent with the Commonwealth-based definition of hotspot will be able to participate and that is an important note,” Mr McCormack said.
“New South Wales and the Northern Territory have availed themselves of this opportunity, I am sure that South Australia will no doubt be next.
“If Western Australia wants to avail themselves of this, they only have to say the word and I'm sure it will be made possible.”
Tasmania, which announced Friday that it will open its borders to low risk Australian states on October 26, could also join the bubble at a later date.
It’s not clear when the bubble will work on a two-way basis. Speaking yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison indicated the travel arrangement would likely be one-way at first.
“It's more likely to be a one-way bubble in the first instance, i.e. New Zealanders being able to travel to Australia, that's good for Australian tourism,” he said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed in a Friday press conference that kiwis who travel to Australia in the coming weeks will still need to complete 14 days of managed isolation on their return, and pay the $3100 quarantine fee.
Ms Ardern said Australia's plans to open its borders to New Zealand might be “their prerogative”, but her government was still not ready for quarantine-free travel from Australia.
More countries to be added to bubble
The deputy PM said the agreement with New Zealand is the first step and there would be further freedoms to come as Australia looks to open up to more countries that have the virus under control.
“We want to open up Australia to the world. This is the first part of it. We want to make sure that we get as many Australians home, we want to make sure that we get as many visitors,” he said.
“We will wait and see how this unfolds, we will wait and see the success of this and I am sure that it will be a success before we start defining and determining which will be the next country.”
Among the possible candidates are other Pacific Island nations that could soon join the travel bubble.
“Those discussions are taking place, I know Foreign Minister Marise Payne is working with many of our Pacific Island friends at the moment,” Mr McCormack said.
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