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Gates open! Two-way travel bubble with NZ from early 2021

December 15, 2020 Headline News No Comments

In some of the best news Australia’s travel industry has heard in many months, New Zealand yesterday agreed in principle to establish a trans-Tasman travel bubble with Australia early next year.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement, saying the bubble was contingent on case levels staying low in both countries. A start date will be announced in the new year.

The breakthrough is great news for the travel industry in Australia and New Zealand, for tourism and business events operators in both markets, and for Aussies and Kiwis seeking reunion with loved ones. The two countries are among the world’s closest – socially, economically and in trade and history.

New Zealand currently enforces two week’s compulsory hotel quarantine on travellers arriving from Australia (and from everywhere else). Australia lets New Zealanders in without needing to quarantine, but on return to their own country, the Kiwis must do two weeks hotel quarantine – a requirement which drastically reduces their incentive to travel to Australia in the first place.

Aussie summer scene. Marulan, Southern Highlands, NSW. Photo: Peter Needham

In the main, the only people who come to Australia from New Zealand at the moment are those arriving for work reasons, and those seeking urgent reunions. Australia, meanwhile, allows none of its own citizens or permanent residents to depart its international borders for anywhere, unless they have a special exemption. Exemptions are granted to only about one third of applicants.

These irksome restrictions should soon be lifted for trans-Tasman travel.

All the travel bubble needs now is a firm start date. Australia’s Health Minister, Greg Hunt, welcomed New Zealand’s announcement, describing it as the “second half of the equation”. Hunt said the Australian Government would “absolutely” approve the agreement, and that increased travel between the two countries would benefit both economies.

“We consciously opened up Australia to people coming from New Zealand because their case numbers were negligible and we knew there would come a time when our case numbers would give them confidence,” Hunt told ABC News.

“Now this gives the chance for New Zealanders [and] Australians to visit New Zealand … without having to quarantine.

“It’s the first step on a return to international normality.”

New Zealand scene. The Catlins, Otago. Photo: Miles Holden

Ardern made clear that requirements for the bubble included 28 days free of community transmission. Contingency plans are being finalised to deal with any sudden community outbreak, which would require providing enough space for potential returnees and air crews if borders shut again.

New Zealand’s Minister in Charge of Covid-19 Response, Chris Hipkins, noted that airlines “have indicated they do need a notice period” as they had grounded much of their fleets and stood down many crewmembers.

Over the weekend, New Zealand and the Cook Islands agreed to open a quarantine-free travel bubble by end of March next year.

For the whole calendar year 2019 (disregarding the distorted year 2020), New Zealand continued to be the leading destination country for Australians travelling overseas, with nearly 1.5 million trips. New Zealand was also the main supplier of visitors to Australia before the pandemic closed borders. It was number-one visitor provider to Australia in December 2019, January 2020 and February 2020.

If the two countries can keep Covid-19 under control over the next month or two, borders will open again and some sort of travel normality will finally ensue, at least over the Tasman. There is no room for complacency – both Japan and South Korea did very well at controlling the pandemic initially, only to have it suddenly flare up again.

Even as various vaccines roll out, Britain is reeling under the onslaught of cases, as are other European countries.

Spare a thought for the USA. Just last Friday, 11 December 2020, Covid-19 killed 3309 Americans. The US death toll has now surged past 300,000. Already, nearly 1 of every 1000 Americans has died of Covid-19 – the equivalent of losing the entire population of cities such as Orlando, Pittsburgh or St Louis. Five times as many Americans have died of Covid-19 as were killed in the Vietnam War. One hundred times as many Americans have died of the coronavirus as died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York in 2001.

Written by Peter Needham

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