Cabinet has agreed in-principle to establishing a travel bubble with Australia within the first three months of 2021.
The arrangement will depend on there being “no significant change” in the Covid-19 situation in both countries, and the bubble getting sign-off from the Australian government.
A bubble would allow for the free flow of travel between countries without the need for quarantine.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a commencement date for the bubble would be announced in the new year.
She said a number of logistical issues had to be worked through, including what would happen to travellers in the event of an outbreak in the country they’re visiting. If there was an outbreak in Australia for example, there might not be enough room in New Zealand’s managed isolation facilities for kiwis over there to return home when they want.
Ardern said the other consideration was around how airlines would separate those travelling within the bubble from other passengers. Airline crew operating within the “safe zone” would also need to be separated from other crew, and planes that haven’t been in use would need to get fly-ready.
ACT leader David Seymour questioned why the Government couldn't move faster.
“Confirmation from the Prime Minister that the Australian travel bubble is on the same go-slow schedule as the Cook Islands is a blow to all New Zealanders and Australians," he said.
“Suggestions that airlines with grounded fleets need time to get up and running is more of an indictment on the Government than anything else.
“Tell them when to be ready and I'm sure they’ll be ready."
National’s Covid-19 Recovery spokesperson Chris Bishop said: “New Zealanders have been able to travel to Australia without quarantining since October 16, but the same won’t happen in New Zealand until well into next year, costing our businesses and their staff dearly.
“Back in November Professor Michael Baker said it was possible to get a trial bubble up and running with Australia by Christmas – so the Government must answer what is taking so long.
“Much like the Cook Islands non-announcement on the weekend, today’s news gives the glimmer of progress without any real substance to it. Businesses are still none the wiser on when we will see Australians able to enter New Zealand without quarantining.
“About 40 per cent of people in MIQ facilities are from Australia, filling up spots while others wait offshore. Every day that goes by without a travel bubble is another day where people can’t travel to New Zealand for compassionate reasons or to fill critical shortages in industries.
“As Professor Baker has pointed out, we should be much more flexible and pragmatic in calibrating our response to the risk from particular countries, rather than adopting a rigid ‘one size fits all’ approach.
“The Government seems to have very little interest in the ‘traffic-light’ system proposed by Professor Baker and Professor Nick Wilson. That is regrettable. Following the public health guidance has been the Government’s catch-cry so far, and they shouldn’t stop now."