New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has walked away from her ambition of a trans-Tasman bubble within the first quarter of 2021, saying “it’s more important to get it right”.
Hopes for the return of non-quarantine travel are shared by plenty on both sides of the Tasman Sea – particularly tourism businesses who have taken a massive hit during the pandemic and the many residents of both countries who have family on either side.
In May 2020, Australian and New Zealand officials announced their hopes to return to pre-COVID arrangements by working together to build safe travel.
Since that moment, the bubble has endured setback after setback, including fresh outbreaks in both countries.
Still, all eastern Australian states and the Northern Territory and ACT are allowing anyone who has been in New Zealand for the past fortnight to enter Australia without the need to quarantine.
New Zealand is yet to afford travellers from Australia the same luxury.
In December 2020, Ms Ardern said that would begin by the end of March, saying “Cabinet has agreed in principle to establish a travel bubble with Australia, we anticipate, in the first quarter of 2021”.
Ms Ardern’s promise was conditional; it was reliant on agreement on how to manage outbreaks that might occur after a bubble was in operation.
Asked for any progress towards those goals, Ms Ardern said on Monday “essentially we continue those talks”.
The Labour leader said the end-of-March goal was “a general guide” and she’d “never used that as a hard and fast”.
“It’s more important to get it right,” she said.
“One of the complications has been we’ve always tried to work to a countrywide opening.
“As we’ve seen, actually there’s so much variation sometimes in the way we deal with different states that we have to accept that it’s probably going to have a level of unpredictability.
“We have a system in place where if we are required to isolate or quarantine (travellers), we feel confident that we can do that well.”