Australia won't make decision on quarantine-free travel with New Zealand until Sunday

Australia won't make decision on quarantine-free travel with New Zealand until Sunday
Photo credit: Getty.

Australia won't decide whether to reopen quarantine-free travel from New Zealand until Sunday.

Australia implemented a 72-hour pause on 'Green Zone' travel from New Zealand on Monday after a COVID-19 case was detected in Northland. Two further cases in Auckland prompted the suspension to be extended until 2pm on Sunday by the Australian Government.

It had been suggested on Friday that Australia may end the suspension on Saturday. That came after no new cases of COVID-19 were found in the community and the Australian Health Minister, Greg Hunt, applauded the "tremendous job" being done in New Zealand by authorities.

However, acting Australian Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said at a press conference on Saturday afternoon that since there are still test results outstanding in New Zealand, Australia won't make any decision on lifting the suspension until Sunday. 

Kidd said officials in New Zealand were doing an "excellent job following up the contacts of the three people who were diagnosed with the South African variant of COVID-19 and also following up all the other guests and all the staff members who were working at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland at the time that these three infections occurred".

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) will meet with their New Zealand counterparts on Sunday and then provide advice to the Australian Government.

New Zealand's Ministry of Health said on Saturday that while all test results of the cases' close contacts have come back negative, there are still 17 people who recently left the Pullman Hotel being followed up with.

Of the 352 returnees who have left the MIQ facility between January 9 and 24, 332 have tested negative and one infant won't be tested. An additional person that was reported in this group earlier has now been confirmed as having left New Zealand for Australia.

The three cases have been genomically linked and all spent time in the Pullman Hotel. Officials therefore believe all three were infected with the virus while they stayed at the facility.

With no further cases being detected, New Zealand Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says there is no evidence of community transmission. No changes to alert levels have been made but Kiwis are encouraged to continue scanning in at locations with the COVID Tracer app.

Hunt on Friday said: "If there are continued excellent results out of New Zealand, which is commensurate with their entire performance over the course of the pandemic, then we hope to be in a position to resume that in the coming days.

"I think that should give hope to anybody looking at friends or family arriving from New Zealand."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has consistently said he has confidence in New Zealand's systems and processes, but acknowledges the decision to pause quarantine-free travel is a decision Australia has can make.