New Zealand Shelves Plans for Trans-Tasman “Travel Bubble”

Instead, Wellington will prioritize the resumption of quarantine-free travel with other Pacific island nations.

Lake Wakatipu as seen from Skyline Queenstown. (Photo: Ömer Faruk Bekdemir/Unsplash)

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that a Trans-Tasman “travel bubble” with Australia will not be considered for “several months,” pushing back its potential rollout to 2021. Yesterday, she told TV hosts on network Three’s The AM Show that countries eligible for quarantine-free travel arrangements would “have to be free of community transmission for a period of time—28 days. That is going to take a very long time for Australia to get back to that place, so that will be on the back burner for some time.”

The worst-hit Australian state, Victoria, currently has more than 6,400 active coronavirus cases. Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of disaster over the weekend, announcing a nightly curfew imposed on all of metropolitan Melbourne from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., and banning the city’s residents from venturing beyond a five-kilometer radius of their homes until at least September 13. Internal travel within Australia in recent weeks has seeded fresh outbreaks in New South Wales and is also responsible for a handful of community cases in Queensland.

Wellington is now focused on opening up air bridges with the Cook Islands and Niue—both nations are part of the Realm of New Zealand and have so far logged zero coronavirus infections. In an interview with Radio Tarana last week, Ardern told presenters, “We have said that realm countries are likely to be open before Australia because they have been Covid-free.” Some argue that these Pacific neighbors require far more help than Australia given their economic dependence on New Zealand, whose tourists account for 70 percent of annual visitor arrivals in the Cook Islands, and the need to reopen access for specialist workers in fields such as medicine and engineering.

In anticipation of a future travel bubble with the Cook Islands, Auckland Airport has released a statement saying it is ready to split its international terminal into two self-contained areas, one a “safe zone” for travelers covered by the travel bubble arrangement, and the other a “health management area” to serve incoming passengers from the rest of the world. This second zone would be independently heated, ventilated, and air conditioned, and come equipped with a UV filtration system to clean the air.

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