India's Australia, New Zealand opens Covid travel bubble

Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand has approved quarantine-free travel with Australia on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing the start of a two-way corridor for travel between the two largely Covid-free nations from April 18.

"I can confirm that quarantine-free travel will begin in just under two weeks, at 11:59 p.m. on April 18," Ardern said after her cabinet approved the date.

The travel bubble comes more than a year after New Zealand closed its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, and six months after Australia allowed New Zealanders to fly into certain states without being quarantined.

Ardern called it a "world-leading" initiative between New Zealand, which has just 26 deaths in a population of five million people, and Australia, which has less than 1,000 deaths in a population of 25 million people.

"I cannot see or point to any countries in the world that are maintaining a strategy of keeping their countries Covid-free whilst opening up international travel between each other," she said.

"That means in a way we are world-leading."

The long-awaited completion of the travel bubble in New Zealand could inject up to a billion NZ dollars (US$705 million) into the economy this year, according to the country's beleaguered tourism industry.

The long-awaited completion of the travel bubble in New Zealand could inject up to a billion NZ dollars (US$705 million) into the economy this year, according to the country's beleaguered tourism industry.

"I very much appreciate the arrangement the New Zealand government has come to today," Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a press conference.

"We welcome them back as indeed Kiwis will be welcoming Aussies."

Last week, the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau, one of the few countries without a single Covid-19 case, opened a travel bubble with virus-free Taiwan. 

President Surangel Whipps described it as a "ray of light" indicating that the world was gradually emerging from the pandemic.

However, just hours before Ardern's announcement, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that he would not be able to allow foreign vacations for at least another month.

The beleaguered tourism industry in New Zealand has predicted that the long-awaited bubble will inject up to a billion NZ dollars (US$705 million) into the economy this year.

New Zealand: A sought-after tourist destination

The South Pacific nation is a popular tourist destination, and its tourism industry has been lobbying for months for quarantine-free travel for Aussies, who account for roughly 40% of foreign tourists.

"It could be up to NZ$1.0 billion and maybe even more that flows into our economy for the rest of this calendar year," Tourism New Zealand CEO Rene de Monchy told Radio New Zealand.

'Bring your family' 

With New Zealand's ski season approaching, Ardern urged Australians to take advantage of the bubble.

"We are a secure place for you to bring your family to visit," she said at a press conference.

Air New Zealand immediately announced that it would raise its flights to Australia from four a week to more than 20 when the bubble goes into effect.

However, while the travel bubble was a step in the right direction, Virgin Australia said it would only give a limited schedule of flights to the ski resort town of Queenstown for the next five months.

One of the challenges in establishing the two-way corridor has been intermittent outbreaks of community transmission in both nations, with Australia halting quarantine-free travel from New Zealand on several occasions due to vCOVID-19 outbreaks in Auckland.

The flare-ups were successfully controlled with snap lockdowns, and Ardern warned travelers that more outbreaks in either country might disrupt their plans.

"People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted," she said.

"Just as we had alert-level settings for managing cases in New Zealand, we will have a framework for managing an outbreak in Australia," she said.

"In many ways, we will treat Australia as a region of our own when we're making decisions on restrictions."

With AFP inputs. 

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