Australia and New Zealand agree to commence work on trans-Tasman COVID-19 'safe travel zone'

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

Australia and New Zealand have agreed to commence work on a trans-Tasman COVID-19 "safe travel zone", easing restrictions between the two nations.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern released a statement on Tuesday afternoon after joining Australia's national Cabinet via videoconference where she caught up with her counterpart Scott Morrison. 

The statement said such an arrangement would be put in place once it is deemed safe to do so, and when the necessary health and transport protocols have been developed and met to ensure the protection of public health.

"Building on our success so far in responding to COVID-19, continuing to protect Australians and New Zealanders remains an absolute priority," Ardern said. "We will remain responsive to the health situation as it develops."

The Prime Minister said during her daily press conference that the idea is to enable travel between Australia and New Zealand without the current need for travellers to quarantine upon arrival for two weeks. 

Ardern's statement said the arrangement "recognises that Australia and New Zealand are both successfully addressing" the spread of COVID-19. But it would need to take into account Australian state and territory movement restrictions.

Ardern said officials would work closely with business leaders and stakeholders, including the Australia and New Zealand Leadership Forum, to  develop the plan.

"A trans-Tasman COVID-safe travel zone would be mutually beneficial, assisting our trade and economic recovery, helping kick-start the tourism and transport sectors, enhancing sporting contacts, and reuniting families and friends."

The Warriors have already been given special permission to travel to Australia to compete in the NRL season. 

But the Prime Minister said it's important to  be "cautious" as the initiative progresses because neither country wants the virus to "rebound", and she wants to make sure that any easing of travel restrictions is safe.

"Relaxing travel restrictions at an appropriate time will clearly benefit both countries and demonstrates why getting on top of the virus early is the best strategy for economic recovery."

She noted how Australia and New Zealand worked closely in setting border restrictions when the pandemic began. Each country has allowed the other's citizens to transit on their way home, and to enter the other country if they live there.

Ardern said the prospect of a trans-Tasman 'bubble' reflects the two nations' Single Economic Market agenda, and the long history of freedom of movement between them.

"Our relationship is one of family - and our unique travel arrangement means we have a head-start for when it is time to get trans-Tasman travel flowing again."

She said once the arrangement has been established, New Zealand will also explore opportunities to expand it to members of the Pacific.

"We will work with interested Pacific countries on parameters and arrangements to manage the risks."

It comes as the Ministry of Health reported no new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand for the second day in a row.