Updated Apr 6, 2021 - World

New Zealand to open quarantine-free "travel bubble" with Australia

 New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and Australian Prime Minster, Scott Morrison pose for a photo before a press conference held at Admiralty House on February 28, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.

Australian Prime Minster Scott Morrison and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Sydney, Australia, in February last year. Photo: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

New Zealand will open a quarantine-free "travel bubble" with Australia from 11:59pm on April 18, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: New Zealand tourism industry official Chris Roberts and Michael Barnett, an NZ Chamber of Commerce director, told Axios the plan could serve as a model for other countries.

  • Roberts, CEO of Tourism Industry Aotearoa, said it would provide a blueprint for international travel and trade, noting the aviation industry had been preparing for this with the two governments over the past year.

What they're saying: "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," Ardern said at a briefing in New Zealand's capital, Wellington.

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a news conference in Australia's capital, Canberra, the trans-Tasman travel corridor "means more planes in the air, more jobs on the ground and in the air as well for our airlines."
  • "This is the first of many more steps to come, I believe, as we get back to a normal, not only over the course of this year but beyond," he said.

How it works: Ardern said her government was implementing framework that prepares for an outbreak, similar to the four-tier alert system that has largely kept the coronavirus out of New Zealand. It involves three possible scenarios: "continue, pause, suspend" travel, she said.

  • NZ Health Minister Chris Hipkins said Australians intending to travel to New Zealand would book a "green zone flight," meaning there'd be "no passengers on that flight who have come from anywhere but Australia in the last 14 days."

For the record: Australia and NZ shut their borders in March 2020, as COVID-19 spread across the world. Barnett, who is also Auckland Chamber of Commerce's CEO, said it took courage to do this and put systems in place to protect citizens.

  • "People have come first and it hasn't been about the economy, it's been about the people and the economy is a consequence of all of that," he said.

Of note: Australia announced a "safe travel zone" last October that enabled New Zealanders to visit parts of the country without quarantining. It was later expanded to the rest of Australia. But Kiwis had to check into managed quarantine hotels upon returning.

  • The travel bubble means Australians and New Zealanders won't have to stay in these hotels in either country.

State of play: New Zealand last confirmed a COVID infection in the community on Feb. 28. No new cases have been detected in Australia this week.

  • New South Wales and Queensland both reported locally acquired cases last week, linked to a bachelorette party at a bar in NSW, near the Australian states' border.

Between the lines: Shaun Hendy, who heads Te Pūnaha Matatini, a research center advising the NZ government, said opening the travel corridor would be low-risk, given Australia is following a similar elimination strategy and has excellent surveillance systems.

  • "Should an outbreak occur in one of the Australian states we would learn about it quickly and our government would have time to take steps to manage travel from any affected region," Hendy said.

What to watch: Tourism New Zealand interim CEO René de Monchy said in an email to Axios she doesn't expect Australian visitor numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels for some time.

  • But it's estimated the travel bubble "could bring in $1 billion to the economy by the end of the year."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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