New Zealand opens up travel bubble with neighboring Australia

“Those undertaking travel on either side of the ditch will do so under the guidance of flier beware,” she said, using a colloquial term for the Tasman Sea that separates the two island nations. That could include an unexpected stint in mandatory hotel quarantine if conditions change midflight.

Passengers traveling to New Zealand in the bubble will be required to have spent the 14 days before the flight in Australia. Airline crews will be required to work only on routes considered low-risk.

Australia and New Zealand owe their success in suppressing the coronavirus in large part to having some of the strictest border controls in the world. In Australia, state governments have snapped their borders shut at short notice in response to outbreaks in neighboring regions, splitting families and stranding travelers en route.

New Zealand has seen just over 2,500 cases during the pandemic, with 26 deaths. Australia has had over 29,000 cases and 909 deaths. Both nations have gone significant stretches without domestic spread, but have seen period flare-ups.

Travel bubbles have been mooted by nations around the world since the early months of the pandemic, but logistics and shifting patterns of virus spread have complicated such plans.

Singapore and Hong Kong were scheduled to launch an air travel bubble last November. However, the plan was delayed after Hong Kong saw a surge in cases.

Australia’s half-bubble with New Zealand has been halted twice so far due to virus concerns, and authorities in both countries have said the same may happen again if new cases spread.

But persistent low cases in some countries have allowed travel bubbles to open. This week, the Pacific Island nation of Palau welcomed back tourists after a year of closed borders caused significant economic losses.

Palau, one of the few nations not to have recorded any cases of covid-19, was so far only allowing travel from Taiwan, where domestic transmission of the virus had been tightly controlled. Palau has also moved swiftly to vaccinate its small population of 18,000.

Taiwanese Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said this week that the travel bubble was only possible because “both sides have controlled the epidemic well.”

Australian and New Zealand officials hope their bubble arrangement will revive tourist businesses that have been hit by the border closures. Australia was New Zealand’s largest source of international tourists before the pandemic.

The travel bubble also will free up quarantine spots for New Zealanders returning from places where the virus is still rampant. Travelers from Australia are now taking up about 40 percent of the places in government-managed quarantine facilities.

Australia’s national carrier Qantas and its subsidiary Jetstar have said they would resume 122 return flights to New Zealand per week once the bubble starts. The Qantas Group has been operating less than 3 percent of its pre-covid capacity trans-Tasman route, according to the New Zealand Herald.

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