Since the beginning of the pandemic, New Zealand has been one of the countries most commended for its strategic containment of the coronavirus, which included a strict lockdown of its borders. Now, the island nation is taking a major step in reopening by launching a quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia, starting April 19.
"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," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced in a statement today, adding that the nation's Director-General of Health considers the risk of transmission between the two countries "low." New Zealand's borders have been closed to international travel since mid-March 2020.
"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," she added. She also acknowledged that it will be a "great relief" for Kiwis with family in Australia to finally reunite after having to "bear" the "sacrifice" for the last year.
To qualify for access between these countries, New Zealanders must not have had a positive COVID-19 test in the previous 14 days or be waiting on results from that period. Aussies planning on visiting New Zealand must travel on a "green zone flight," meaning all passengers will have been in Australia for at least 14 days before flying. These flights are also flown by a crew that has not recently been on a high-risk route.
Visitors will also be asked for detailed contact information while in the country and must use the NZ COVID Tracer app during their stay. Masks will be required on flights, and random temperature checks will be imposed as an added safety layer.
The plan will only move forward pending a final airport audit that should be completed by April 16.
Those who do go for the quarantine-free travel must be ready to follow new directives at any time if anything changes and the virus starts spreading. If an unknown case is detected and may be linked to the border, a short-term, 72-hour lockdown will go into place in that state, pausing flights for that duration. If multiple cases are found, a suspension of quarantine-free travel may go into effect.
Today's announcement is a departure from Ardern's statement in January that New Zealand would keep borders closed until all its citizens are vaccinated. The country started the rollout at the end of February and has administered 85,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine — more than 67,400 first doses and about 18,000 second doses — for the population of five million, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
According to data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, New Zealand has had 2,524 COVID-19 cases and 26 deaths, while Australia has had 29,365 cases and 909 deaths, since the beginning of the pandemic.
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