Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Australia’s push to open borders with Singapore could threaten the goal of a trans-Tasman bubble with her country.
Australia and New Zealand have a long-standing agreement to remove quarantine obligations on travellers dating back to May last year.
Eastern Australian states have fulfilled their side of the deal, allowing Kiwis to bypass the otherwise mandatory fortnight of isolation.
New Zealand is yet to do so.
Ardern is holding back out of an abundance of caution, following her country’s health-first approach to fighting COVID-19.
And it means the window may be closing on a trans-Tasman travel bubble as Australia begins to explore other options.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack went so far on Sunday to suggest that reciprocal quarantine-free travel between Australia and Singapore could begin by July.
But Ardern, who isn’t yet interested in a three-way travel bubble, hasn’t given up on Australia.
She told Radio NZ on Monday that enabling quarantine-free travel for Australians was still her intention.
“Australia is the country that most closely mirrors both our strategy and our management at the borders,” she told listeners.
However, she said there would have to be assurances the borders wouldn’t be snapped closed in the event of a COVID-19 case.
“At the moment you don’t hear a lot of people raising issues about being stranded,” she said.
“But I can guarantee if we had a two-way quarantine-free arrangement, we would certainly hear if we had issues in Australia that caused us to take a pause and shut down flights.
“So we need to be prepared for how we would manage that, particularly if people needed to get home.”
The prospect of a trans-Tasman travel bubble has discussed since last May.
It almost became a reality earlier this year before the Northern Beaches outbreak, followed by several cases in Auckland.
Ardern said the temporary restriction of quarantine-free travel for New Zealanders heading to the eastern states showed how fragile the travel situation currently was.
Should Australia open to Singapore in July, she says, the risk may prove too great.
“If Australia makes the decision to open up, and we think that that poses risks to us then we will reconsider.”