New Zealand is expected to exclude New South Wales from its quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia when it resumes as cases continue to mount in the wake of the Bondi outbreak.
The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, told Breakfast on Monday morning she anticipated the bubble would resume shortly, with the exception of New South Wales, where case numbers are highest. She said the government might introduce new preventative measures, including pre-departure testing.
New Zealand officials announced on Saturday that the bubble would be paused until midnight on Tuesday – the first time travel has been paused with the entirety of Australia since the arrangement began.
The announcement came as new cases were announced in a string of Australian states and territories. The cluster of Sydney cases grew to 110 over the weekend, and local cases were also recorded in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
“There are now multiple cases and outbreaks in Australia in differing stages of containment and the health risk for New Zealand in response to these cases is increasing,” the Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins’ office said in a release. “The government has taken the precautionary step of temporarily widening the current pause with New South Wales to include all of Australia.”
Hipkins acknowledged “the frustration and inconvenience that comes with this pause”.
“Given the high level of transmissibility of what appears to be the Delta variant, and the fact that there are now multiple community clusters, it is the right thing to do to keep Covid-19 out of New Zealand,” he said.
New Zealanders stuck in Australia should follow the health guidelines of the state or territory they were in, and anyone who had returned from Australia to New Zealand after 21 June should be monitoring their health, Hipkins’ office said.
The release noted that New Zealand “remain[s] committed to quarantine free travel with Australia.”
Wellington is still at a level 2 alert, a week after an infected Australian tourist came to the city and visited a number of busy cafes, bars, eateries and museums. The man had had one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which may make him less likely to have passed the virus on – but the man’s partner, who had initially returned a negative test, reported a positive test on Sunday, indicating he could have been infectious toward the close of his visit. So far, Wellington has recorded no cases in the community, and no Covid-19 in wastewater, but Hipkins said on Friday that the city is “not out of the woods yet”, and people should stay vigilant for symptoms.
Under level 2 conditions, gatherings of more than 100 people are banned, and businesses can remain open if social distancing guidelines are observed. Masks are compulsory on public transport, and encouraged in indoor spaces like supermarkets, especially where social distancing is difficult to observe.
The pause in travel between New Zealand and Australia will come as a blow for some tourism operators who had been hoping for a boost in visitors for the upcoming ski season. The NZSki chief executive, Paul Anderson, told RNZ that “Australians make up a good 30-40% of our revenue in a normal season” and nearly half of bookings had been lost as a result of disrupted travel.