New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the much-anticipated pandemic travel bubble between Australia and our Kiwi counterparts is set to officially commence in less than two weeks.
Australians will be able to travel to New Zealand without having to quarantine from 11:59 pm on Sunday April 18, Ms Ardern said Tuesday afternoon.
Airlines will be able to take bookings from Monday April 19.
"Our health response now gives us the opportunity to connect with loved ones again," Ms Ardern said.
Given all Australian states except Western Australia are already open to NZ visitors, this will effectively mark the official opening of the much touted trans-Tasman bubble.
Ms Ardern called the bubble a "world-first" arrangement.
"Cabinet was presented with advice today that conditions for opening up quarantine-free travel with Australia had been met," the Kiwi leader said.
"The Director-General of Health considers the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from Australia to New Zealand to now be low, and that quarantine-free travel would be safe to commence."
Ms Ardern, however, warned about the possibility of travel being disrupted going forward if cases are detected.
“We absolutely wish to encourage family and friends to reunite and visitors to come and enjoy the hospitality New Zealand is ready and waiting to offer,” she said, but cautioned that “people will need to plan for the possibility of travel being disrupted if there is an outbreak.”
If New Zealand detects multiple cases of unknown origin, the government will likely suspend flights for a set period of time.
Aussie travellers will be on special 'green zone' flights
Those coming from Australia will be on planes exclusively for Australians, Ms Ardern said. The planes will also be flown by crew members who have not flown on any high-risk routes for a set period of time.
Australians travelling to NZ will also have to provide authorities with extensive contact information for their stay.
Aussies on specially allocated "green zone" flights will be required to wear a mask while on board and will also be asked to download and use the NZ Covid Tracer app for use while in the country.
People will also be denied travel if they have any cold or flu symptoms. Random temperature checks will be carried out on arriving passengers.
"An arrival, passengers will be taken through what we call 'the green zones' at the airport meaning there'll be no contact with those arriving from other parts of the world and going into managed isolation or quarantine facilities," Ms Ardern said.
"As you can hear, quite a bit of preparation is being required by airlines and airports and I thank them for that work."
Qantas to add flights, Virgin Australia won't participate
Virgin Australia said it will not be operating flights to New Zealand during the bubble, citing "border requirements which add complexity to our business". The airline has reportedly pushed back cross-Tasman flights until September.
Qantas, however, is set to ramp up routes between the two countries, in particular between Sydney and Auckland.
The idea of the travel bubble has been in the news for nearly 12 months, but has previously been scuttled due to outbreaks.
Scott Morrison touts 'first step of many'
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the news after speaking with Ms Ardern last night.
"This is the first of many more steps to come, I believe, as we get back to a normal, more normal position, not only over the course of this year but beyond," he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
"I very much appreciate the arrangement the New Zealand government has come to today, we welcome them back as indeed Kiwis will be welcoming Aussies.”
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