New Zealand suspends Australian travel bubble

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

The government of New Zealand announced Friday (23 July) that it was suspending its so-called “travel bubble” with Australia for two months beginning at 11:59pm Friday because of the rise in COVID-19 cases in Australia. The government announced it would allow repatriation flights for New Zealanders caught in Australia, which has locked down many of its major cities due to the rise in cases. Those New Zealand residents currently outside of Victoria and New South Wales will be able to get on these flights and not go through quarantine, but everyone will need a negative pre-departure test. Those in New South Wales will need to enter hotel quarantine for two weeks while those in Victoria will be able to isolate at home, with similar testing requirements to those in managed isolation.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned that after the seven-day grace period, New Zealanders in Australia must take their chances booking a place in hotel quarantine. “My strong message to every New Zealander in Australia right now who does not want to stay there long term is – come home,” Ardern said. “If there are significant economic issues that are brought up by the closure in that seven-day window that can be resolved than we have a delegated minister to work through any of those issues,” Ardern said. “However, it must be in the seven-day window, we are not making exceptions outside of that. Everyone else has to go into quarantine.”

The bubble, already shut for many states, was designed to allow New Zealanders and Australians to travel between the countries without staying in mandatory managed isolation hotels. Both countries had essentially eliminated COVID-19 when the bubble was launched, but border leakages in Australia and subsequent outbreaks have seen flights between New Zealand and various states closed several times. Asked if she did not trust Australia to manage the latest outbreak, Ardern said: “We don’t trust COVID. There is no judgement here. We want Australia to succeed because it allows us to keep those arrangements alive.”

Meanwhile, airlines in Australia have been forced to cut routes and capacity because of border closures between states due to the increase in cases. Qantas Airways’ domestic capacity has fallen to less than 40 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels due to lockdown. State border closures led to the sharp fall in domestic capacity from 90 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels earlier this month and have dampened the capacity outlook to October, Chief Executive Alan Joyce said in memo dated on Wednesday (July 21) that was reviewed by Reuters. The airline had in April forecast that domestic capacity would top pre-pandemic levels in the financial year that started on July 1 because of a rebound in demand. Joyce warned that if the lockdowns last longer than expected, domestic staff face the possibility of being idled without pay. “We’re not at the point of requiring stand downs in our domestic operations at this stage,” he said. “But to be honest, we can’t rule it out if multiple states keep their borders closed for extended periods.”

Regional carrier Rex announced reductions in services to cities and regional communities that are affected by extensive state border closures and lockdowns. Domestic and Regional routes on Rex’s network in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania will be either temporarily suspended or greatly reduced until the end of the state government imposed border closures and/or lockdowns. Rex Deputy Chairman John Sharp said, “Rex’s COVID Refund Portal ensures that our passengers receive their money in the bank within 2-3 days of making an eligible refund request through our automated portal. This gives our passengers the complete peace of mind to make their flight bookings without worry of any snap lockdowns and subsequent loss of money.”

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