Coronavirus: Trans-Tasman travel bubble announcement one day away - what to expect

Tuesday is D-Day for when the Government is expected to announce a date when a trans-Tasman bubble will open with Australia.

The idea of a travel bubble between the two countries was first floated in April last year, with then-Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters saying travel could start "more quickly than we think".

Nearly a year later on March 22, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that a date for travel would be made on April 6. She said opening up a travel corridor between the two nations would be contingent on six key criteria. These are: 

  • Our response framework for when there are cases in Australia is fit for purpose
  • We have measures in place to effectively contact-trace travellers from Australia, should we need to
  • All technical issues are resolved, including transiting passengers and managed isolation fees - when, for instance, passengers arrive in either Australia or New Zealand but their ultimate destination is different
  • We have the appropriate regulatory mechanisms in place
  • Airports, airlines, and agencies are ready
  • The Director-General of Health has provided an up-to-date health assessment.

"Once these criteria are met, we anticipate we will be in a position to open the bubble," Ardern said.

Cabinet chose April 6 as the date for when an announcement would be made because the 15 days between March 22 and then would allow the Government to have talks with airports and airlines, Ardern said.

However, she said "many New Zealanders are nervous" at the potential for increased transmission of COVID-19, which has infected 131 million people worldwide, and pointed out that such an arrangement would be "highly complex".

"Officials have been considering and working through these complexities for months," she said. "Cabinet today [March 22] received an update on this work."

Coronavirus: Trans-Tasman travel bubble announcement one day away - what to expect
Photo credit: Getty Images

New Zealanders have been able to travel to Australia quarantine-free since October last year, however, there have been some short suspensions to this arrangement when community cases have been found.

Even though passengers who choose to travel between the two countries won't need to quarantine once a bubble opens, there is still a warning for those who do decide to fly across the Tasman.

"I think on both sides of the ditch we will be saying to make this work there will be an element of 'flyer beware'," Ardern said.

"We want to keep this open, we want to keep it moving, but we also want to keep both sides safe, so there may be occasions when we take a precautionary approach and for a short period of time travel ceases."

Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Julie White said on Monday the hospitality industry is holding out for the bubble announcement.

"That's what we are really hanging our hat on," she said, adding it would be devastating if a date isn't announced.

"What is so bad is actually the unknown.

"Just that trans-Tasman bubble announcement will be like a shot in the arm. It will just give the hospitality industry that glimmer of hope that we're through the worst.

"We're really hopeful that the Prime Minister will announce an opening and, if not, we're really hopeful that she announces a plan because that's what's missing from this whole COVID recovery."

After Ardern's announcement last month, the Insurance Council of New Zealand warned that while travellers should still take out travel insurance, they won't be completely covered in a pandemic.

"In addition to the normal travel insurance cover, some policies may include cover for specific COVID-19 claims such as cancellation costs if you contract COVID-19 and can't travel, costs to return home if a relative gets sick with COVID-19 or costs if you get sick with COVID-19 and need to quarantine while overseas. Some also cover reasonable costs if the person you are supposed to stay with gets COVID-19 and you need to find alternative accommodation," chief executive Tim Grafton said.

"However, as discussed over the last few days, border closures imposed by a government are not covered by any insurer as it is simply not possible to develop a product that accounts for the uncertainty and the level of risk this presents.

"Insurers and customers need certainty of the exact dates and times borders open or close so that they know when cover is available and when it is not."

The Opposition has been pushing for a travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia for months but the Opposition recently ramped up that pressure even further, launching a petition calling for its immediate implementation. 

"We just need to make sure when we do it, we get it right," Ardern said. "A petition isn't what makes this decision - we make it based on health advice and when we believe we've got everything in place." 

Both New Zealand and Australia celebrated Easter weekend in a relatively unrestricted way as both countries reported no new community COVID-19 cases.

Queensland, which was the epicentre of a recent, small community outbreak, has only had one infection in the past three days. The state currently has the tightest restrictions out of the two countries.