A two-way travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia which doesn’t involve quarantine – it’s just the best thing that could happen for tourism and business travel in both countries; it may be announced this week and it could even be in place before Christmas.

Australian media organisations, notably the West Australian and some Murdoch publications, say New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will announce the creation of a trans-Tasman bubble when she swears in her new Cabinet this Friday.

The measure, which would allow Australians to visit New Zealand without need for quarantine, could possibly start with just one or two Australian states.

The New Zealand Government has yet to confirm it, saying only that talks between the two countries continue and no firm date has been set for a travel bubble.

Following her recent re-election with a resounding majority, Ardern has named her new Cabinet today (Monday 2 November). Ministers will be sworn in this Friday, when Cabinet will meet for the first time.

Ardern says she will set out her new government’s priorities “though to the end of this year, in particular actions we will take to accelerate the economic recovery and to continue keeping New Zealand and New Zealanders safe from Covid”.

Australia has already introduced a “one-way travel bubble” letting New Zealanders visit several Australian states and territories without needing to quarantine. So far, however, Ardern has refused to reciprocate. New Zealand’s borders have been closed to international travel since March. Anyone entering New Zealand must undergo two weeks mandatory quarantine at their own expense (about $3000), with some exemptions for health workers and key industries.

Covid-19 has been virtually eliminated in New Zealand – and Australia yesterday achieved a day with no locally acquired cases for the first time in nearly five months.

Both countries are very important to each other, including for business, leisure and VFR travel. New Zealand was the largest source country for travel to Australia in 2019 and the same is often true in the other direction.


Here’s how a two-way, non-quarantine travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia could work, along with a couple of other key considerations:

  • Firstly, the Australian federal government would have to release Australians wishing to visit New Zealand. Currently, Australian citizens and permanent residents can’t leave Australia – for anywhere – unless they get an exemption from the Department of Home Affairs.
  • To set the ball rolling, fast tests for Covid, taking only 15 minutes, should be administered at the airport or at registered centres, shortly before passengers board flights. This process is recommended by IATA. United Airlines is already using it for flights between Hawaii and the continental USA, to eliminate the need for quarantine on arrival. See: Way forward! International flight uses ‘Covid passport’ app. There’s no reason why it wouldn’t work between Australia and New Zealand.

  • We can’t yet eliminate Covid-19 from the world, but we can certainly eliminate it from flights. Several 15-minute Covid tests exist, including the Abbott ID NOW Covid-19 test used by United Airlines. Brisbane-based biotech company, Ellume, has developed a rapid Covid-19 test that can deliver results in 15 minutes with 95% accuracy. Another test developed in Israel claims to be even faster.
  • Catching Covid-19 on a flight is extremely unlikely in any case. See: Catch Covid-19 on a flight? You’re more likely to win Lotto! Since that finding, US researchers with the Aviation Public Health Initiative (APHI), a project of the Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, have found that flying presents a lower risk of catching Covid-19 than grocery shopping or dining out. That’s because ventilation of air on aircraft reduces the possibility of exposure to viruses. “Because of the frequent exchange of air and HEPA filters on planes, over 99% of the particles containing the virus are removed from cabin air”, the researchers concluded. Masks and other measures reduce risks even further.
  • Politicians have noted, however, that the public rewards leaders who protect them from Covid-19, even if this has entailed closing borders. New Zealand’s tourism industry is reeling from the effects of that country’s border closure, but Kiwis returned Ardern to power in a landslide victory a couple of weeks ago, largely because she got rid of the coronavirus. Similarly, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk pulled off a third term on Saturday, gaining a 5% swing to become Australia’s first female party leader to win three elections. Gold Coast tourism is hard hit, but the Queensland government stood firm, ignoring constant pleading from NSW, Canberra and even from Queensland’s own tourism industry. The state kept its border closed to visitors (and to Covid-19) and on Saturday, Queensland voters used the ballot box to thank their premier for keeping them safe.

Written by Peter Needham