NZ says Aust bubble decision is imminent

·2-min read

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will reveal her start date for the long-awaited trans-Tasman bubble on April 6.

"It is close," Ms Ardern said on Monday.

"We know what it would mean to people. But we also know that many New Zealanders are nervous.

"We do expect to be in a position to open up the bubble soon."

The prospect of returning to quarantine-free travel arrangements was first agreed back in May last year, when Ms Ardern attended a meeting of national cabinet with Australian PM Scott Morrison.

Since then, Australia's three biggest states have allowed quarantine-free flights of Kiwi visitors, with South Australia also taking onward travellers.

New Zealand has been slow to reciprocate.

Ms Arderns government spent months negotiating for a whole-of-Australia agreement, before abandoning that goal this year to focus on a state-by-state approach.

For trans-Tasman families, airlines, airports and NZ tourism businesses, there's an eagerness to get people moving again.

About 600,000 Kiwis live in Australia, and 75,000 Australians call NZ home.

Despite plummeting cases in Australia - and just two cases of the COVID-19 arriving in New Zealand from Australia in the last seven months - Ms Ardern maintains a conservative approach to re-opening borders.

"I'm cautious. People know that about the way that we've been operating," she said.

"We have to make sure we don't jeopardise domestic tourism by having outbreaks in New Zealand and that's why we have to get this right."

Ms Ardern said any opening would require travellers to take on a degree of risk in the event of an outbreak where they are visiting.

"It's very likely those New Zealanders would have to shelter in place," she said.

"We have thousands of people who prior to COVID crossed the Tasman on both sides. We would not be in the position to repatriate thousands of New Zealanders."

The issue has gained a fresh prominence in New Zealand after the opposition shifted tack.

Last week, 42,000 Kiwis signed a petition backed by the National party asking for the bubble to begin immediately.

Ms Ardern denied politics was behind Labour's new-found enthusiasm to meet its long-held policy goal.

"A petition doesn't make this decision. We make it based on health advice," she said.

"We never do anything we're not ready to do."