National News

National News is brought to you by a partnership between Crux and RNZ News 

eight col PM TRAFFIC LIGHT

New Zealand, Australia travel no-quarantine bubble to start on 19 April - Ardern, Hipkins

Conditions for quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand have been met, and a bubble will start in less than two weeks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Cabinet has been meeting today to decide the date the two-way quarantine-free travel will start. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised last month to announce on 6 April when the bubble could begin operating.

The new settings will begin from 11.59pm on 18 April.

Announcing the start date this afternoon, Ardern said Cabinet had accepted the advice of the Director-General of Health and was "confident not only in the state of Australia but also in our own ability to manage a travel arrangement".

"While Queensland has recently undergone an outbreak connected to the border, this too looks contained. And Cabinet believes any residual risk can be managed with additional precautionary processes such as pre-departure testing if needed."

Ardern said a system with three levels - continue, pause, suspend - would manage the trans-Tasman bubble.

"Pause" would be a temporary halt to travel and "suspend" would be longer term if there was a more serious outbreak.

Ardern said it was an important step forward in New Zealand's Covid-19 response, "and represents an arrangement I do not believe we have seen in any other part of the world, that is, safely opening up international travel to another country while continuing to pursue a strategy of elimination and a commitment to keeping the virus out."

She today said airlines had not been given any forewarning about when a bubble with Australia would be opened.

Ardern had previously said the government had carefully worked through the framework of a trans-Tasman bubble.

But she warned travelling would not be without risk and if there was a community outbreak in Australia, travelling Kiwis may have to stay put, self-isolate or be tested once they return.

The three-day lockdown in the Greater Brisbane area was lifted over the weekend and there have been no new cases in Queensland for the second day in a row.

In northern New South Wales coronavirus restrictions eased on Monday night after another day of no new community cases.

New Zealand's tourism industry has been waiting impatiently for quarantine-free visitor flights between the two nations to return, giving a much-needed injection of life into the sector, which could bring an estimated $1 billion into the national economy.

Here are full details:

New Zealand’s successful management of COVID means quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia will start on Monday 19 April, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed the conditions for starting to open up quarantine free travel with Australia have been met.

“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,” Jacinda 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. 

“One sacrifice that has been particularly hard for many to bear over the past year has been the separation from friends and family who live in Australia, so today’s announcement will be a great relief for many. 

“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.

“We have worked hard to ensure travel is safe and that the necessary public health measures are in place.

“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.

“Just as we have our alert level settings for managing cases in New Zealand, we will also now have a framework for managing New Zealanders in the event of an outbreak in Australia, which involves three possible scenarios: continue, pause, suspend,” Jacinda Ardern said.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said to ensure New Zealand remains on top of COVID-19, the Government has added further layers to manage risk at the border.

“To be eligible to travel to or from New Zealand on a quarantine-free flight, people must not have had a positive COVID-19 test result in the previous 14-day period and must not be awaiting the results of a test taken during that period,” Chris Hipkins said.

“When those in Australia decide to come to New Zealand, they will be making a booking on a green zone flight. That means that there will be no passengers on that flight who have come from anywhere but Australia in the last 14 days. They will also be flown by crew who have not flown on any high risk routes for a set period of time.

“Passengers will need to provide comprehensive information on how they can be contacted while in New Zealand, complete a pre-departure health declaration and won’t be able to travel if they have cold or flu symptoms.

“When they fly, they will be required to wear a mask on their flight, and will also be asked to download and use the NZ COVID Tracer app while in New Zealand.

“On arrival, passengers will be taken through what we call the green zones at the airport – meaning there will be no contact with those who are arriving from other parts of the world and going into managed isolation or quarantine.

“We will also be undertaking random temperature checks of those arriving as an added precaution.

“Final infection control audits for airports in particular are occurring over the next two weeks and are a requirement for each airport to operate. The Ministry of Health expects to have completed these and to have reported on them on 16 April.”

Chris Hipkins said it is estimated the bubble will free up 1,000 to 1,300 rooms per fortnight within MIQ.

“Of these, we will retain roughly 500 spaces as contingency should they be needed for the Trans-Tasman arrangement.

“We also have a small number of facilities that we consider to have only been suitable for travellers in quarantine from low risk countries. With the opening of travel, we will look to decommission these facilities – but in the meantime we are considering whether they could be used for other low risk countries, such as the Pacific Islands.

 “As a result of this, we do not anticipate a large number of vacant quarantine spaces to come on stream. There will, however, still be thousands of spaces in MIQ for Kiwis. That’s how we have helped 130,000 safely return home through our managed isolation facilities.”