National | Aotearoa

Aussie, here we come

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a trans-Tasman bubble will open from April 19.

She credits this country’s successful management of Covid-19 for the decision.

But the prime minister warned quarantine-free travel would not be what it was pre-Covid-19, and those undertaking travel will do so under the guidance of “flyer beware.”

“People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak.”

April 19 should appeal to both sides of the Tasman given it’s the start of the ANZAC week commemorations.

Ardern and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed the conditions for starting to open up quarantine free travel with Australia had been met.

However, no decision has come for a bubble with the Cook Islands.

Seeing whānau

“The director-general of health considers the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from Australia to New Zealand is low and that quarantine-free travel is safe to commence,” Ardern said.

“One sacrifice that has been particularly hard for many to bear over the past year has been the separation from friends and family who live in Australia, so today’s announcement will be a great relief for many.

She said the bubble would give Aotearoa’s economic recovery a boost and represented a world-leading arrangement of safely opening up international travel while continuing to pursue a strategy of elimination and keeping the virus out.

“Just as we have our alert level settings for managing cases in New Zealand, we will also now have a framework for managing New Zealanders in the event of an outbreak in Australia, which involves three possible scenarios: continue, pause, suspend,” Ardern said.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said to ensure New Zealand remained on top of Covid-19, the government had added further layers to manage risk at the border.

To be eligible to travel to or from New Zealand on a quarantine-free flight, people must not have had a positive Covid-19 test result in the previous 14-day period and must not be awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test taken during that 14-day period, Hipkins said.

Will Scomo make the trip over, too?

With visitors from Australia about to head over to Aotearoa soon, according to the normal schedule of prime ministerial visits, it is Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's turn to meet his counterpart and visit Aotearoa.

Some media are saying that their meeting could be in Queenstown to send a message to Aussies to spend their money on hiring out some snow gear as winter approaches.

Compulsory masks

“When those in Australia decide to come to New Zealand, they will be making a booking on a green zone flight. That means that there will be no passengers on that flight who have come from anywhere but Australia in the past 14 days. They will also be flown by crew who have not flown on any high-risk routes for a set period of time."

Passengers would need to provide comprehensive information on how they could be contacted while in New Zealand, complete a pre-departure health declaration and wouldn’t be able to travel if they had cold or flu symptoms.

They would be required to wear a mask on their flight, and would also be asked to download and use the NZ Covid-19 Tracer app while in New Zealand.

“On arrival, passengers will be taken through what we call the green zones at the airport – meaning there will be no contact with those who are arriving from other parts of the world and going into managed isolation or quarantine.

Freeing up rooms

“We will also be undertaking random temperature checks of those arriving as an added precaution,” Hipkins said.

“Final infection control audits for airports, in particular, are occurring over the next two weeks and are a requirement for each airport to operate. The Ministry of Health expects to have completed these and to have reported on them on April 16.”

Hipkins said it was estimated the bubble would free up 1,000 to 1,300 rooms per fortnight within managed isolation hotels.

Roughly 500 rooms would be retained as a contingency should they be needed for the trans-Tasman arrangement.

“We also have a small number of facilities that we consider to have been only suitable for travellers in quarantine from low-risk countries. With the opening of travel, we will look to decommission these facilities – but in the meantime, we are considering whether they could be used for other low-risk countries, such as the Pacific Islands.

Hipkins did not anticipate a large number of vacant quarantine spaces to come on stream. There would still be thousands of spaces in managed isolation facilities for Kiwis.