COVID-19: State-by-state approach to trans-Tasman travel bubble on the cards - Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is again floating the idea of a trans-Tasman travel bubble after our neighbours from across the ditch put forward a new approach.

Australian officials are now suggesting the travel bubble could work on a state-by-state basis, allowing an air bridge between New Zealand and states that are considered COVID-free. 

"[We] were previously working on the idea of a whole-of-Australia approach. They've now changed their position and said they could work on a state-by-state and what they call 'hotspots' approach. That does open opportunities for us," Ardern told The AM Show on Monday.

Over the weekend, Australian Minister for Trade and Tourism Simon Birmingham told reporters he hoped a travel bubble with New Zealand would be in place "as soon as possible" - and possibly by Christmas.

"We're working hard to make sure every safety precaution and measure is in place through our airports, our border protections, screening processes, to make sure people can travel safely between Australia and New Zealand without risk of encountering other air travellers that may be coming in from higher-risk countries," Birmingham said.

The minister suggested travel could initially be one-way, allowing Kiwis to fly to Australia without the need for quarantine on arrival. However, he noted that would likely only apply to South Island residents, due to Auckland's latest outbreak in August.

Speaking to The AM Show, Ardern said the new approach would aim to avoid COVID-19 'hotspots' that remain dotted throughout Australia, particularly following Melbourne's recent surge in cases. According to the latest data, Victoria still has 399 active infections of COVID-19 - however, a downtrend in daily case numbers encouraged Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews to ease Melbourne's stringent lockdown restrictions, with the city's controversial curfew officially lifted as of 5am on Monday. 

"Obviously you wouldn't want a situation where there was any chance of anyone from Victoria travelling quarantine-free," Ardern said.

"We've got to make sure that if say Victoria is a hotspot, prevention is there to stop people from Victoria travelling to a state that is COVID-free and [therefore] able to travel.

"If we do open up an arrangement, that can't be disrupted by interstate travel in Australia."

A range of interstate travel restrictions have been imposed by state and territory governments in Australia, preventing certain residents from crossing domestic borders.

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

No new cases of COVID-19 were detected in New South Wales on Sunday for the first time in almost four months, with 81 infections currently considered active. 

According to the latest States and Territories report from the Department of Health, just 24 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded nationwide on Sunday, 16 of which were in Victoria. One was found in Queensland and seven were detected in Western Australia. 

Northern Territory has only recorded 33 cases of the virus and has suffered no virus-related deaths.

"Those are some of the details that need to be worked through, but this does open up some opportunity for us to move sooner than we otherwise might [have], but we'll always be making sure it's safe," Ardern told The AM Show.

However, the Prime Minister was hesitant to provide a rough date of when Kiwis could expect to travel across the Tasman, acknowledging that previous talks to open an air bridge during the school holidays had been scuppered by Victoria's latest surge in cases.

Australian officials are currently working to determine what is considered a 'hotspot', she said.

There have long been discussions between New Zealand and Australian leaders about reopening travel across the Tasman, but plans were put on hold when Melbourne's case numbers spiked. 

Ardern has previously said she would want Australia free of community transmission for 28 days before considering a quarantine-free travel bubble.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran recently told the Sydney Morning Herald that quarantine-free travel between the two countries would be unlikely for at least another six months.