New Zealand yesterday said that it would open a long-anticipated travel bubble with Australia on April 19 now that both countries have been successful in stamping out the spread of COVID-19.
The start of quarantine-free travel between the neighboring nations should come as a relief to families who have been separated by the pandemic, as well as to struggling tourist operators.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said health officials believe the risk of the virus being transmitted from Australia is low and that travel is now safe.
“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,” Ardern said.
Australia allows New Zealanders to arrive without going into quarantine, but New Zealand has taken a more cautious approach, requiring travelers from Australia to spend two weeks in quarantine upon arrival.
Both countries have kept out the virus by putting up barriers to the outside world, including strict quarantine requirements for travelers from countries where the virus is rampant.
The announcement comes ahead of the New Zealand ski season and was welcome news for many tourist towns, including the ski resort of Queenstown.
Mal Price, coowner of The Cow restaurant in Queenstown, said the number of customers was down by about 80 percent this year.
“Hallelujah. Business will be back,” he said. “Every business will have hope now that they can survive. It really has been dire.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters it was an important first step for Australia as the nation slowly begins returning to normal.
“The fact that we can now combine again will mean jobs, it will mean people reunited, it will mean many opportunities as those normal relations are restored between Australia and New Zealand,” he said.
Morrison is expected to travel soon to New Zealand to meet with Ardern.
Ardern cautioned that the travel bubble comes with a warning: Flyer beware.
“People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak,” she said.
That means travelers could temporarily be stranded in either country or be required to quarantine.
Although the bubble would open up spaces at New Zealand quarantine facilities, it is not planning to increase the number of travelers it accepts from other nations.
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