At Tuesday’s National Cabinet meeting, which New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will sit in on, the prospect of a “trans-Tasman bubble”, enabling international travel between New Zealand and Australia, will be discussed.
It’s an idea that has been brewing for a number of weeks now, sparked by the relative success of the two countries in slowing the spread of COVID-19 as well as their proximity to each other and isolation from some of the outbreak’s epicentres.
On Monday, Ms Ardern said there would be “significant advantages” to reenabling trans-Tasman travel, but obstacles remain.
Here’s what’s happened so far and what may happen next.
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On March 14, New Zealand became one of the first countries to lock down its border in a substantial way.
Ms Ardern announced that all travellers entering the country were required to quarantine for 14 days, a stance that quickly became commonplace but at the time was the “widest-ranging and toughest border restrictions of any country in the world,” according to the PM.
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Scott Morrison followed suit the following day, announcing similar restrictions for people travelling to Australia, after “swapping notes” with Ms Ardern.
Australia’s border lockdown eventually tightened to allow only residents and citizens and their families in (with the 14-day quarantine), while New Zealand went further and banned any non-resident or citizen from entering.
Where did the ‘bubble’ idea start?
It was April 16 when New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters first floated the idea.
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“Our figures with Australia, it’s almost as if we’ve got a trans-Tasman bubble between our two countries, and if the figures keep on going that way, then that is a serious possibility,” he said.
“We are exploring that as we speak.”
But on the same day, Mr Morrison suggested such plans weren’t something the Australian Government was considering at that time.
“We are aware of their interest in that, it has not got much beyond that,” he said.
“So we are aware of that, but we are not at present contemplating any border changes at the moment.
“We will work closely with New Zealand, we have all along.”
Your questions on coronavirus answered:How did it develop?
As the weeks passed and both Australia and New Zealand found success in flattening the curve and slowing the spread of coronavirus, both governments started to get a bit more ambitious.
On April 29, last Wednesday, Mr Morrison said that while wider international travel is still likely to be some way off, New Zealand could be an exception.
“I can’t see international travel occurring anytime soon, the risks there are obvious,” Mr Morrison said.
“The only exception to that … is potentially with New Zealand, and we have had some good discussions about that.”
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This backed up the thoughts of Australian Tourism Industry Council executive director Simon Westaway, who had previously said that New Zealand was likely to be travel-hungry Australians’ only option for some time.
“New Zealand is probably going to be the most attractive and most likely the [first] international destination to open up for Australia over the medium term,” he said.
“We’re obviously close but there’re some good quarantine and customs arrangements in place and you’d think just with some health management over the top, that market could probably open up more quickly.
“You can’t see how the US or Europe is going to open up within the next year, to be honest.”
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:What might come next?
With Ms Ardern virtually joining the Australian leaders on Tuesday, it seems this idea is about to take the next step.
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But while Ms Ardern was eager to talk up the potential positives of a trans-Tasman bubble, she was also quick to stress that people should not be making holiday plans too quickly.
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“There are significant advantages to New Zealand in terms of a trans-Tasman bubble not only [in terms of] domestic tourism, but equally we have a flow of people travelling between both countries, for business purposes, trade and so on,” Ms Ardern said.
“So it is to our advantage, but equally Prime Minister Morrison has articulated a huge advantage for Australia.”
Ms Ardern said not to “expect this to happen in a couple of weeks’ time,” and said that she and Mr Morrison had a “very similar perspective of the type of timeline” involved.
One high-profile trans-Tasman journey has already been completed, though, after a federal exemption was made for the Warriors to travel to Australia in an attempt to get the 2020 NRL season back up and running on March 28.
The permission was granted by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, which allowed the players and staff to land in Tamworth, where they will be quarantined for 14 days.
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