Quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand will begin from April 19, the New Zealand Government announced today, opening up a cautious and conditional travel corridor between the two nations.

Based on what NZ Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, says was New Zealand’s successful management of COVID, the travel bubble will allow Australians and New Zealanders to travel between the two countries only, with managed isolation not required at either end.

Launched by Ardern and New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, the bubble comes following a declaration from the NZ Director-General of Health that the risk of transmission is low and quarantine-free travel was safe to commence.

Aussie accents will be a regular sound heard in the Arrivals hall at New Zealand airports.

“Our team’s success in managing COVID-19 and keeping it out over the past 12 months now opens up the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones and resume Trans-Tasman travel,” Prime Minister 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.

“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.”

A ‘traffic light system’ similar to what is currently in place in Victoria will govern the new travel bubble, with each Australian state to be graded as either green, amber or red depending on its management of subsequent COVID-19 outbreaks and its effect on community transmission.

Wellington’s iconic cable car.

Green designation means travel between the affected Australian state and New Zealand will be free of restrictions or quarantine, with amber referring to a case of unknown source resulting in the state entering a short-term lockdown, similar to what happened recently in Greater Brisbane in the lead-up to Easter. An amber ruling will see travellers asked to get a COVID-19 test and the potential for flights to be suspended for up to 72 hours.

A red designation will likely see the suspension of flights between New Zealand and the affected state, with New Zealanders returning from that state potentially going into 14-days of managed isolation on their return to the country.

Prime Minister Ardern said travel under the bubble arrangement will not be what it was prior to the pandemic, and those undertaking a trip across the Tasman doing so under a “flyer beware” risk.

The traffic light system will govern flights between Australian states and New Zealand.

“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, added that flights operated under green zone conditions will mean travellers can be confident that nobody on that flight has come from anywhere other than Australia in the preceding 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 will need to provide comprehensive information on how they can be contacted while in New Zealand, complete a pre-departure health declaration and won’t be able to travel if they have cold or flu symptoms,” Hipkins said.

Aussies are likely to flock to NZ to enjoy the popular ski season.

“When they fly, they will be required to wear a mask on their flight, and will also be asked to download and use the NZ COVID 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.

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

News of the travel bubble was welcomed by Australian leaders, with Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, saying the move follows the opening of a one-way ‘Safe Travel Zone’ from New Zealand to Australia in October 2020 which had led to more than 34,000 arrivals in the intervening period.

“This latest major step in the resumption of international travel has only been possible due to the internationally recognised, world-leading responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by Australia and New Zealand,” Prime Minister Morrison said.

New Zealand’s adventure attractions will be ramping up staff levels in anticipation.

“The announcement also represents a major boost to our tourism industry with around 18 per cent of all international air arrivals from New Zealand annually and with visitors to Australia now having the opportunity to travel without having to quarantine at either end of their journey.

“In 2019, New Zealand travellers spent $1.6 billion on travel and tourism in Australia.”

Morrison said Australian and New Zealand government health and border officials will continue to work together to facilitate the safe and effective introduction of the two-way Safe Travel Zone.