MIAMI – For the first time, New Zealand halts the trans-Tasman bubble to all of Australia, possibly resuming with negative COVID test results. 

“There are now several cases and outbreaks in Australia in various stages of containment, and the health risk to New Zealand as a result of these cases is growing,” said Chris Hipkins, the country’s COVID response minister. Hipkins explained that he was taking the “precautionary action” of temporarily extending the pause to NSW to include the entire country.

The measure, which is expected to remain until Tuesday night, comes after New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian imposed an emergency lockdown on the Greater Sydney region at four hours’ notice. By 8 p.m. Friday, the city’s Bondi cluster had grown by 11 cases, totaling 29 locally acquired cases. 

“I understand the frustration and difficulty that this pause causes, but given the high level of transmissibility of what appears to be the Delta variant and the fact that there are now many community clusters, keeping COVID-19 out of New Zealand is the appropriate thing to do.”

Qantas VH-VXB Boeing 737-800 | Photo: Aidan Pullino/Airways

Pre-Flight Testing

Pre-flight testing would be a significant alteration to the arrangement, and would be comparable to what has been implemented in other countries such as the United Kingdom. 

According to Australian Aviation, premier Berejiklian stated on a dramatic Saturday afternoon in Sydney that locking down the city for a few days would be “pointless,” and that her health advice was to sanction a two-week lockdown. “We must brace ourselves for a potentially larger number of instances in the coming days, which is why it is critical that we act now,” Berejiklian added.

New Zealand’s unexpected move comes only days after the Victoria bubble reopened after being shut down at the end of last month. The break was scheduled to last 72 hours at first, but as the state entered its fourth lockdown, it was continually extended.

Qantas VH-ZNB Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner | Photo: Noah Pitkin/Airways

The Quarantine-free Travel Deal

Quarantine-free travel between the two countries only began in April, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern cautioned that in the event of a lockdown, the deal would be temporarily terminated. 

New Zealand said it was launching quarantine-free travel under the guidance of “flyer beware,” as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put it. The country will reserve the right to proceed, halt, or discontinue the arrangement in the event of a COVID cluster.

Travel will most likely resume if a case was discovered that was linked to a quarantine facility staff member and was well contained. If a case is discovered that isn’t clearly related, and a state responds with a brief lockdown to gather more information, New Zealand will likely halt flights from that state in the same manner that flights from other states have been paused in the past.

Flights would most certainly be halted for a period of time if many cases of unknown origin happened. The bubble had previously stalled in Western Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria.

Featured image: Air New Zealand Airbus A321neo. Photo: James Kirkland/Airways