New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she would reveal the date she intends to create a two-way trans-Tasman bubble on 6 April.
The news came despite speculation the date would be revealed today and following Australia seemingly rushing to change its laws to facilitate a quick opening.
PM Ardern said the country would instead “proceed with caution” and argued that many citizens are still “nervous” about opening up their borders.
Australia and New Zealand have all but shut themselves off to the rest of the world, with speculation both countries won’t open fully until the very end of 2021. Currently, only citizens of either country are allowed to enter, and those that do must complete 14 days of hotel quarantine.
New Zealand still needs to finalise a number of measures to ensure the arrangement is safe, including ensuring the two countries contact tracing teams can collaborate, isolation facility costs and airline and airport preparations.
Yet just 24 hours earlier, Australia amended its Biosecurity Act, which gives it the legal right to ask all returning residents to quarantine for 14 days.
“Australia is ready for any potential travel bubble with New Zealand,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt. “We’re prepared. We understand New Zealand has to go through its processes, and we’re deeply respectful of those, but we are ready when they are.”
Prime Minister Ardern added to the speculation herself by earlier telling state broadcaster TVNZ that New Zealand would shift to negotiating with Australian states in addition to the federal government itself.
“We’ve said: ‘Look, let’s just move state-by-state’ because it’s actually just taking a bit too much work, a bit too difficult,” PM Ardern said. “Let’s just operate as Australia has been operating with us. That’s helping to speed things up.”
The rumours that a decision was imminent also led Air New Zealand to reveal on Friday it would operate flights between Auckland and Hobart as soon as a two-way trans-Tasman bubble starts.
It came after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a deal in November to re-establish a travel link between Tasmania and New Zealand for the first time since 1996.
The agreement, which was intended to start in January, will include 130 direct flights from Hobart each year, with three departing per week in warmer months, and two in winter.
A one-way ‘travel bubble’ first opened in October 2020 allowing Kiwis to enter Australia without quarantine, but not the other way around.
Both countries indicated it would be made reciprocal in the first quarter of 2021, however, the move was postponed due to numerous small outbreaks of COVID in both countries.