Across the internet, videos of travellers reuniting with friends and families brought warmth and hope to people around the globe. The launch of the long-awaited trans-Tasman travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand marks what many hope will be the beginning of the relaxation of strict border closures around the world.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern remarked on the positive milestone: “It is truly exciting to start quarantine-free travel with Australia. Be it returning family, friends or holiday-makers, New Zealand says welcome and enjoy yourself.”
A revenue boost for the tourism sector
She continued: “What the bubble will mean for each of us personally is important, but what's also important is what it will mean for the economy and our recovery. According to Tourism New Zealand Forecasting, welcoming Australians back could mean a billion-dollar boost.”
While travel from New Zealand to some Australian states has been permitted since October, many conditions applied, including quarantine. And Australians were not given reciprocal travel allowances. Under the new travel bubble, both New Zealanders and Australians can travel between the two counties, quarantine-free, so long as they have spent 14 days before departure in either Australia or New Zealand and are not be awaiting the results of a Covid test, nor have any Covid symptoms.
The risks of Covid clusters must be properly addressed
Even reports of a new Covid case couldn’t derail the movements of the new travel bubble. In response to a worker at Auckland Airport, testing positive for Covid following the opening of the travel bubble, New Zealand authorities reasoned that this didn’t warrant ordering a pause in quarantine-free travel with Australia. “When we opened, on both sides, we of course knew we would continue to have cases connected to our border,” Ardern said. “We accept that's going to be part of our journey together, I think Australia accepts that.”
While the possibility of Covid clusters does pose a risk to the success of the travel bubble, timely and efficient responses will be key to ensuring that they needn’t cause the suspension of the new travel bubble, says Jennifer Nuzzo from Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "It's not zero-risk to allow travel in and out of countries,” Nuzzo said. “And we've seen this most acutely in Australia where there have been a number of clusters found probably related to travel. So, it is possible that both countries could see clusters here and there. But so far they've demonstrated a commitment to respond when they do occur.”