Australians and New Zealanders are free to travel from one country to the other for the first time in more than a year, as the world's first major COVID-19 “travel bubble” is established between the two nations.
The so-called “Trans-Tasman Bubble”, which commenced on Monday, means travellers can now fly across the Tasman Sea and visit either Australia or New Zealand without having to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine. While New Zealand travellers have been allowed to enter most Australian states and territories without quarantine since October, this is the first time the international borders have been open bilaterally between the countries since March 19 last year when the pandemic hit.
It resulted in predictably emotional scenes at both Auckland and Sydney International Airports this morning, as the first quarantine-free “green flights” touched down in Australia and New Zealand and hundreds of people long-separated by the coronavirus pandemic were able to finally reunite, in the flesh, with their parted loved ones.
When the first flight took off from Sydney Airport at 7AM on Monday, it was also the first time that the more than half a million New Zealanders living in Australia—accounting for just over 2 percent of Australia’s population—could freely visit home.
“It is truly exciting to start quarantine-free travel with Australia. Be it returning family, friends or holiday-makers, New Zealand says: ‘Welcome and enjoy yourself,'” New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement on Monday. “The bubble marks a significant step in both countries' reconnection with the world and it’s one we should all take a moment to be very proud of.”
Alan Joyce, Chief Executive of Australian airline Qantas, told the ABC that this morning’s flights signalled the first time in 400 days that people in Australia and New Zealand have been able to travel internationally quarantine-free, and noted that the airline was adding 16 return flights a day to New Zealand—many of which were already full.
Both countries are in the privileged position of having kept their COVID-19 infection numbers relatively low, in part as a result of enforcing hard border closures in the early stages of the global outbreak. Since the pandemic began, Australia has recorded a little over 29,500 virus cases and 910 deaths, while New Zealand has had about 2,200 confirmed cases and 26 deaths.
In order to be allowed onboard the green flights, passengers will have to meet quarantine-free travel criteria and crew must not have flown on any "high-risk routes" for a set period of time. Other international arrivals into both Australia and New Zealand must still go through a two-week hotel quarantine, at their own expense.
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