Pre-departure COVID-19 testing approved for some travellers to New Zealand from Melbourne amid bubble pause

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Pre-departure testing has been approved for some travellers who were in the Australian state of Victoria in the days leading up to the current travel bubble pause.

Anyone who has been in Victoria since 8pm on Tuesday, May 25, cannot fly to New Zealand at all due to the travel pause in place. But those in Victoria prior to that date may present a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of departure.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's visit to Queenstown this weekend can go ahead as planned if he shows evidence of a negative test. Morrison did an interview in Melbourne on May 20.

A Section 70 public health order issued in New Zealand on Thursday requires anyone in New Zealand who has been in the Greater Melbourne area to self-isolate until they return a negative test. The pre-departure test option has been added on.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday the Australian delegation would be subject to the same rules as others travelling to New Zealand. 

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Friday failure to produce evidence of a negative test could result in people being denied boarding, or penalties on arrival in New Zealand. The only exception is for children under two years old.

He said the extra step was taken to ensure those who have been in Melbourne during the infectious period of the original detected COVID-19 cases, but who have since flown to another state, can't fly on to New Zealand without first confirming they don't have COVID-19.

"This is a prudent step. The health and safety of New Zealanders is at the centre of our decision-making. Case numbers have risen in Victoria again today, and there are growing numbers of locations of interest," Hipkins said. 

"While we don't see these travellers who have left Victoria prior to 25 May as a major risk to New Zealand, we want to ensure the risk is reduced as much as possible. A negative pre-departure test can give us a higher degree of confidence that a person will not be infectious upon arrival in New Zealand."

The new pre-departure testing requirements will come into force for all flights arriving in New Zealand after 11:59pm on Monday, to minimise disruption for those passengers with imminent departures. 

Before that time, either a pre-departure test, or a test and isolation on arrival into New Zealand, will be accepted for entry into the country. 

Hipkins announced on Thursday afternoon that the pause on quarantine-free travel with Victoria would be extended until 8pm next Friday, after a growing number of COVID-19 cases were reported in the state. 

Victoria's latest update on Friday showed four new cases of COVID-19 in the community. On Thursday the state reported 26 cases, a patient in intensive care, and at least 10,000 primary and secondary identified contacts.

Sunrise reporter Nathan Templeton, speaking to The AM Show on Friday from Melbourne, said it might not be the best look for Morrison to travel to New Zealand when Victoria is in lockdown.

"At the moment it's only Victorians who are banned from travelling in other states. The number of cases in the rest of Australia is almost non-existent so I guess it should be safe.

"I think, perhaps, it would be a better look for him to stay in Australia, maybe even visit Victoria, although I'm not sure how welcome he will be. 

"I think we consider New Zealand to be almost part of Australia and Australia part of New Zealand, so I don't think it's a terrible look, but perhaps he would be better staying at home just for the next week while we're all in lockdown here."

Morrison is set to be in Queenstown on Sunday and Monday for the annual Australia-New Zealand Leaders' Meeting with his counterpart Ardern. He will be accompanied by his wife, Jenny Morrison.

Morrison's visit to New Zealand will be his first since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The last time the pair shared a podium was in February 2020 in Sydney, where Ardern delivered a stern message to Australia about deportations.