“The Director-General of Health considers the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from Australia to New Zealand is low and that quarantine-free travel is safe to commence,” Ardern said. “Our team’s success in managing COVID-19 and keeping it out over the past 12 months now opens up the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones and resume Trans-Tasman travel.”
“The bubble will give our economic recovery a boost and represents a world-leading arrangement of safely opening up international travel while continuing to pursue a strategy of elimination and keeping the virus out,” Arden asserted.
New Zealand has been acknowledged as one of the world’s most successful countries in its containment of the COVID-19 virus since the very start of the pandemic. An important element of its strategy has been a staunch ban on international travel that’s remained in effect uninterruptedly since mid-March 2020.
The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reports that New Zealand has seen a mere 2,524 COVID-19 cases and 26 related deaths, while neighboring Australia has had 29,365 cases and 909 deaths to date.
Today’s announcement deviates from Ardern’s January 2021 statement that New Zealand planned to keep its borders closed until every last Kiwi had been vaccinated. The island nation began its vaccine rollout at the end of February and has thus far administered over 67,400 first doses and roughly 18,000 second doses of the Pfizer vaccine, Travel + Leisure reported. With a population of five million, the country is still far from having inoculated all of its citizens.
A so-called “travel bubble” or “air bridge” has been proposed and considered at various stages throughout the pandemic, but this will mark the first time in over a year that Australians will be welcomed to New Zealand without a 14-day quarantine, provided they meet certain eligibility criteria.
To qualify for quarantine-free travel to or from New Zealand, travelers must:
—Not have tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous 14-day period.
—Not be awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test taken within that period.
—Not have cold or flu symptoms.
—Complete a pre-departure health declaration.
—Provide detailed information as to how they can be contacted while in New Zealand.
—Download and utilize the ‘NZ COVID Tracer’ app while in New Zealand.
Australians bound for New Zealand will be booking their travel on a so-called ‘green zone’ flight, meaning that there will be no passengers on that flight who have been anywhere but in Australia for the 14 days previous. Crews aboard serving green zone flights will also not have flown any high-risk routes for a set period of time.
Upon arrival in New Zealand, passengers will be routed through airport ‘green zones’, where there will be no possibility of contact with flyers arriving from other parts of the world who are headed towards managed isolation or quarantine locations.
Even amid this first stage of border reopening, New Zealand’s government will remain vigilant and has established alert levels that could prompt sudden policy changes if an outbreak is detected. Ardern cautioned, “Quarantine-free travel will not be what it was pre-COVID-19, and those undertaking travel will do so under the guidance of ‘flyer beware’. People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak.”
The plan is set to proceed pending airports’ final infection controls audits, which are being conducted over the next two weeks. The Ministry of Health expects these to be completed and the reports received by April 16.