It was sheer jubilation at the Tailor household in Sydney when New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the long-awaited two-way trans-Tasman bubble. This allows, from 19 April onwards, Australian travellers to enter New Zealand without mandatory hotel quarantine.
It’s been a year since Bharat and Asha Tailor saw their son Paras who lives in New Zealand. Paras could have travelled to Australia any time after October last year when Australia made it quarantine-free for New Zealanders, but the mandatory 14 days of hotel quarantine on return stopped him from doing so.
Not anymore. Paras has already booked his flight to Sydney to meet the family.
The Tailor family are not the only ones rejoicing. Similar joy is shared by around 600,000 New Zealanders living in Australia and 75,000 Australians in New Zealand. All are looking forward to meeting families separated for more than a year because of the pandemic.
However, will this quarantine-free travel inspire many Aussies and Kiwis to make holiday plans again?
“Perhaps not,” says Phillip Boniface from Helloworld Travel in Carlingford, NSW.
“Surely our phones are ringing with enquiries, but potential leisure travellers are thoughtful about the associated risks and conditions of travel and the cost.”
He added, “This arrangement will strongly appeal to the friends-and-relatives sector and to some business travellers, but leisure travellers are not 100% confident to travel offshore just yet.”
While making the announcement Prime Minister Arden cautioned travellers that their travel plans could be disrupted at short notice if a case is detected or an outbreak has emerged in Australia.
The bubble will continue if the detected case is linked to a quarantine or border worker who has been contained quickly. However, chances remain high for the bubble to be paused if there is a localised outbreak that leads to a short lockdown, like the recent one in Brisbane. Further, the NZ government may suspend the bubble temporarily if there are a number of community cases with an unknown source. This NZ approach mirrors that of Australia, which paused the travel arrangement temporarily during outbreaks in Auckland.
Also, to become eligible for a quarantine-free flight, a number of conditions need to be met, like not having had a positive COVID-19 test in the 14 days before departure, and currently not waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test taken in the past 14 days. In addition, travellers need to spend the 14 days before departure in either Australia or New Zealand.
The flights across the Tasman won’t come cheap either. According to the Qantas website, it will cost a family of four around $3,000 from Sydney to Queenstown and back during the June school holidays, Queenstown in winter being a favourite for Aussie ski lovers. With Jetstar the fare will be marginally cheaper.
Considering the above some may prefer to travel domestic, particularly because of the half-price fares to 13 destinations within Australia.
However, Sayan and Monalisa, a young couple from Melbourne will love to travel internationally.
“We will board the plane for sure despite some risks,” they say, being very keen to dust off their passports and visit New Zealand, where they have been twice earlier. They now look forward to other international destinations on their bucket list if allowed.
“The conditions don’t worry us; it’s the new way of travel in a pandemic,” they add.
Sovon Thakur from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) express similar views. Based in Sydney, he is Head of Operations for New Zealand. Since the pandemic began he has been depending mostly on video calls to manage many multi-million dollar accounts across the Tasman.
“Now it’s the time to personally shake hands with clients and cheer up my NZ team”, he comments while planning to book his flights to Auckland soon.
The success of this bubble depends on many factors. An important one is how strongly the established health, transport and isolation protocols are enforced in both countries. The other factor of significance is the successful rollout of the vaccination, which has been rather slow in both countries, though it’s not essential for passengers to get jabbed before travel.
Once travel arrangements across the Tasman prove effective, opportunities will open up to expand the concept to other countries like Singapore, Japan, South Korea and other Pacific nations.
The New Zealand travel bubble, to paraphrase Prime Minister Morrison, is but the first step.
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