The much-vaunted two-way travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia has popped. The travel corridor, set up in mid-April, allowed New Zealanders and Australians to move freely between the countries. But following recent fresh waves of COVID in Australia, New Zealand pulled the plug on Friday for at least the next eight weeks.
“There are now multiple outbreaks, and in differing stages of containment, that have forced three states into lockdown. The health risk to New Zealanders from these cases is increasing,” New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern said on Friday.
New Zealand is shutting down the travel corridor at 23.59 (Auckland time) on Friday, July 23.
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Quarantine-free New Zealand-bound flights end tonight
While flights between Australia and New Zealand can continue, quarantine-free flights will not. New Zealand had already paused quarantine-free flights between New South Wales and New Zealand and Victoria and New Zealand. But flights from other Australian states could carry passengers under so-called “green flight” quarantine-free provisions. Australia continues to allow New Zealanders to enter and bypass the 14-day hotel quarantine stay.
“We’ve always said that our response would evolve as the virus evolved,” said Ms Ardern. “Now is the time for a suspension to ensure New Zealanders aren’t put at undue risk from COVID-19 and to ensure we retain our hard-won gains.”
After just three months, the bubble pops
The travel corridor between the two countries was almost a year in the making and subject to constant setbacks. When it got underway in April, airlines in both countries were jubilant, anticipating brisk business between Australia and New Zealand.
Qantas and Air New Zealand, and to a lesser extent, Jetstar, threw planes and capacity onto the sector. There was an initial rush of traffic, mostly Kiwis keen to get out of Australia and people desperate to visit family and friends. After that initial rush, passenger traffic stabilised to lower than expected levels, causing airlines to wind back capacity and trim schedules.
In a lucky break, Virgin Australia decided to refrain from flying to New Zealand and concentrate on their home turf. Today, that decision means Virgin Australia has one less problem to deal with.
Today’s decision bodes badly for Qantas & Air New Zealand
Today’s suspension of the travel corridor is bad news for Air New Zealand and the Qantas Group. Yesterday, Simple Flying reported Air New Zealand was Australia’s top international airline in May on the back of the travel bubble. While Air New Zealand still operates scaled-back international flights elsewhere, New Zealand is now the entirety of Qantas’ scheduled international operations.
Both Qantas and Air New Zealand are yet to release formals statement on today’s news, but both airlines will slash their remaining services.
The New Zealand Government advises there will be managed return flights for New Zealanders originating in all Australian states and territories over the next seven days. All passengers will need proof of a negative pre-departure test.
Passengers on ex-Sydney managed flights will have to go into managed quarantine for 14 days regardless of COVID-19 status. Passengers from Melbourne must self-isolate upon return and have a negative day three test.
All passengers on managed flights originating in Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia, ACT, and Norfolk Island can enter New Zealand subject to certain requirements and move freely around.
The New Zealand Government advises these flights will be open to New Zealand citizens and holders of residence class visas. Holders of New Zealand issued temporary visas, and Australian citizens, who last departed New Zealand after April 5, 2021, can also avail themselves of these flights. The New Zealand Government remains open to extending the managed flight period and adding additional services if demand requires this.
However, all passengers out of Australia heading into New Zealand on non-managed flights are out of luck. Hotel quarantine beckons from midnight tonight.