Quarantine-free travel from the state of Victoria to New Zealand will pause from 1:59am on Friday (NZT), COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced on Thursday evening.
The decision follows updated public health advice from New Zealand health officials amid escalating case numbers and possible exposure sites in Victoria, Hipkins says. The pause will run for at least four days and will be reviewed on Monday.
The pause means anyone who has been in Victoria after 1:59am (NZT) on July 16 cannot travel to New Zealand from any state in Australia until further notice.
Shortly after the pause was announced, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed the state will enter a five-day snap lockdown from 11:59pm on Thursday until 11:59pm on Tuesday (local time).
Victoria recorded 10 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, all of which are linked to the current outbreaks in Australia.
Hipkins says he understands the "frustration and inconvenience" that comes with disrupting the trans-Tasman travel arrangement, but reiterated it was "the right action to take" due to the uncertainty around community transmission in Melbourne.
"It is also in keeping with our consistently cautious approach to prevent COVID-19 entering the New Zealand community," he says.
Travellers currently in Victoria are asked to follow the instructions issued by local health authorities.
Andrews says the measures are a repeat of the "successful strategy" implemented mere weeks ago when the state was again forced into lockdown.
"That was successful then, and this will be successful now," he says.
"If you were authorised to work then, you will be authorised to work now. If you were closed then, you will be closed now."
Andrews says he isn't prepared to avoid a five-day lockdown now, only to find the state in a "five-week or a five-month lockdown" later on.
"I know and understand how frustrating it is for committees and townships that do not have cases and don't have exposure sites to be locked down," he continued.
"It is very challenging to be locked down because of things happening in Melbourne. The challenge here is they might be happening in other places. We don't know yet and have to have an abundance of caution given how the relevant, given how infectious, given how fast this delta variant moves."
Anyone who has visited a location of interest in Melbourne is not permitted to travel to New Zealand. Those who are travelling on Thursday night must present a negative pre-departure test.
Additionally, anyone who has been in Melbourne in the past week and has since returned to New Zealand is asked to monitor their health and regularly check Victoria's locations of interest.
Following Hipkins' announcement, Air New Zealand has adjusted its schedule for flights to and from Victoria.
The airline will operate NZ250 from Melbourne to Wellington and NZ126 from Melbourne to Auckland on Thursday night as planned, but subsequent passenger flights from Melbourne to New Zealand will be cancelled for the next four days in line with the travel suspension.
A reduced number of passenger flights will continue to fly to Melbourne to ensure customers currently visiting New Zealand from Victoria can return home. Cargo services will continue to operate.
Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty says impacted customers who have booked directly with Air New Zealand are able to change their booking online with no fee, or they can put their ticket into credit.
"The Travel Alerts page on our website is being regularly updated as new information becomes available. We strongly advise customers to check this page before they book to make sure they meet the entry requirements for their destination," she says.
"Our contact centre is currently fielding a large number of calls and customers are encouraged to hold off calling and instead use our online rebooking tool. Customers can go online to change their flight to a new date or hold the fare in credit to use at a later date."
Quarantine-free travel from New South Wales remains paused with managed return flights in place, meaning travellers are required to enter managed isolation on arrival in New Zealand.
Quarantine-free travel from all other Australian states remains open, but travellers must present a negative test taken within the 72 hours prior to their departure. They also must complete a health declaration confirming they haven't been at a location of interest, as well as the Nau Mai Rā travel declaration.