More than six months after Australia dramatically locked down its borders in response to COVID-19, the arrival of an Air New Zealand flight at lunch time tomorrow will signal a bold new phase of the pandemic.
Australia’s border rules will be relaxed tomorrow as the country establishes a trans-Tasman travel bubble with New Zealand.
Under the deal, New Zealanders will be allowed to travel quarantine-free into NSW and the Northern Territory if they have not been in a COVID-19 hot spot in the previous 14 days.
It will be a one-way deal initially, with New Zealand yet to say when Australians will be able to make their own journey across the ditch.
More than 350 passengers from New Zealand will arrive in Sydney on three flights on Friday after the travel bubble opens at midnight.
The first flight, Air New Zealand flight NZ103, is expected to touch down at Sydney Airport about 12.20pm with 200 passengers on board.
It will be followed by Jetstar flight JQ204 at 1.40pm and Qantas flight QF146 at 5.55pm.
While international flights continued to arrive in Australia throughout the pandemic, passengers on these flights will be the first in months to leave the airport freely, rather than being whisked away for mandatory hotel quarantine.
Kiwi holiday-makers, those reuniting with friends and relatives, and New Zealanders who are usually based in Australia are expected to be among those on board tomorrow’s flights.
Sydney Airport chief executive Geoff Culbert said the arrival of the flights would be a welcome change.
“We haven’t welcomed people to Sydney in months that haven’t had to come through customs and go straight on to buses to hotel (quarantine),” Sydney Airport chief executive Geoff Cuthbert told yesterday’s AFR National Infrastructure Summit in Sydney.
New Zealand passengers who touch down in Australia will be kept separate from returning travellers from other countries, who still need to complete hotel quarantine on arrival.
But visitors from New Zealand will still have to complete 14 days of quarantine when they return home, at a personal cost of around $NZ3100 ($A2900) per person, which has reportedly dulled interest in travelling across the ditch.
Air New Zealand told Stuff.co.nz it had seen a “small” increase in bookings to Sydney since the travel bubble was announced on October 2.
While NSW and the Northern Territory are currently the only options for travellers from New Zealand, South Australia may be the next to join the bubble, having recently relaxed its state border, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said this month.
New Zealanders hoping to take advantage of the travel bubble – which is formally called the “safe travel zone” – will be eligible if they have been in New Zealand for the last 14 days and not in a designated hot spot, and if they are travelling on a quarantine-free flight as determined by the airline.
There are no areas in New Zealand that are currently designated as hot spots by the Australian Government.
Travellers who tick all those necessarily boxes won’t have to apply for an Australian Government border exemption, but they will have to hand in a COVID-19 declaration form from the Department of Home Affairs before they board their flight.
The bubble does not apply to New Zealand citizens who are outside New Zealand.