Fears that Kiwi travellers could be stranded in Australia if a virus outbreak occurs is among New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s top concerns about quarantine-free travel with Australia.
Ms Ardern dashed the hopes of many Australians yesterday when she said she would not be rushed on opening the trans-Tasman travel bubble, with her government to announce a start date on April 6.
“We don’t have a date for you,” Ms Ardern told reporters on Monday afternoon, adding authorities had to “proceed with caution”.
“We know what it would mean for people but we also know that many New Zealanders are nervous.
“Our view is, rather than trying to work through a solution that sees all of Australia with New Zealand, that we can work through an arrangement that sees us operating with some states but not others.
“We will be saying, to make this work, there will be an element of ‘flyer beware’. We want to keep this open, we want to keep it moving, but we also want to keep both sides safe.
“So there may be occasions when we take a precautionary approach and for short periods of time travel ceases.”
Ms Ardern said her government needed to work through scenarios for travellers who could become stranded by short-term closures.
In January, Australia announced the one-way travel bubble with New Zealand would be suspended for at least 72 hours due to an outbreak in Auckland, while Brisbane went under a short and sharp 72-hour lockdown that same month in response to a locally transmitted COVID-19 case.
The New Zealand Prime Minister said travellers should be aware they could become stuck with little notice.
“To make this work, there will be an element of ‘flyer, beware’,” she said.
“We want to keep it moving, but we also want to keep both sides safe, so there may be occasions when we take a precautionary approach and, for short periods of time, travel ceases.”
Ms Ardern said criteria to be met before a bubble could open included measures to contact-trace Australian travellers and systems for airlines and airports to keep bubble travellers and crew separated, the New Zealand Herald reported.
Ms Ardern delivered her update on the progress of the two-way travel bubble yesterday after meeting with her Cabinet committee.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa and Wellington Airport chief executive Steve Sanderson said it was disappointing no starting date was revealed on Monday, as was expected.
“It would be disappointing for the bubble to be delayed further simply because the work has not been done. The bubble has been discussed and worked on since May 2020 and key policy issues are well known,” Mr Sanderson said, according to the Herald.
“After a year of missed funerals, delayed weddings, family separations and Zoom birthday calls, it is time to get on with it and make the bubble a reality.”
Meanwhile, Australia has lifted its international travel ban to allow travel to New Zealand, paving the way for the next stage of the trans-Tasman travel bubble.
The Federal Government has made changes to its emergency biosecurity laws that will allow people to leave Australia to visit New Zealand, once New Zealand makes a decision on whether to allow quarantine-free access to Australian travellers.
Health Minister Greg Hunt amended the emergency biosecurity laws on Monday to allow anyone who had been in Australia for at least 14 days to travel “directly to New Zealand” for any reason.
Under Australia’s travel ban, which came into effect 12 months ago, Australians have to apply for an exemption to leave the country.
An exemption is now no longer needed for New Zealand.
Australia lifted quarantine restrictions for travellers from New Zealand in October, in the first stage of the long-awaited trans-Tasman travel bubble.