Coronavirus: 'Several months' at least before trans-Tasman bubble possible - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Jacinda Ardern says it will likely be "several months" before a trans-Tasman bubble will even be considered, let alone formed.

Australia's previously heralded COVID-19 response has come unstuck, with an explosion in cases centred on the southern state of Victoria. Premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of emergency on Sunday after confirming another 671 cases of the deadly virus, and seven deaths.

Two months ago, the Government was being urged to open up the border to Australia, one of our biggest trading partners and where hundreds of thousands of Kiwis and their extended families live. Even if one state had an outbreak, plans were being made to open a bubble with others that were free of COVID-19.

Those plans appear now to be in tatters.

"The trans-Tasman bubble, obviously not anytime soon," the Prime Minister told The AM Show on Monday.

"One of the things that we set as part of our criteria, is anywhere where we have quarantine-free travel, they have to be free of community transmission for a period of time - 28 days. That is going to take a long time for Australia to get back to that place, so that will be on the backburner for some time."

While the new outbreak in Australia has been centred on Victoria, its largest city of Melbourne in particular, the virus is leaking into other states. New South Wales reported 12 new infections on Sunday, and a few others have also been picked up in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, in some cases brought in by people flouting travel rules. 

Ardern said it's "very hard to predict" when a bubble might happen. 

"Their numbers at the moment are very high. Dan Andrews himself said they were looking like being in that position for months, which is why they've gone into the lockdown."

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: The AM Show

Pacific nations have been pushing for a bubble with New Zealand too. Many, such as the Cook Islands, have had no cases of the "tricky virus" at all, and have economies heavily dependent on travel to and from New Zealand.

"Two weeks ago Cabinet mandated officials to do that work in earnest, so they're doing that logistical work now," Ardern said, saying a timeframe for reopening quarantine-free travel with the Cook Islands could be finalised in the next couple of weeks. 

But there will be no rush. 

"We have a lot of people transiting through New Zealand... who are coming from high-risk countries. So we basically need to create an airport where no one has contact with one another. That is incredibly important, to make sure that anyone who's coming through from the realm countries does not come into contact with anyone that's come from a high-risk country. It's that logistical work we have to get right.

"We can't bear the burden of the risk to the Cook Islands in particular if this isn't done properly. They are COVID-free, their health system is heavily reliant on ours, so it's in both our interests to get this right."