New Zealand has suspended the trans-Tasman travel bubble for at least eight weeks starting Saturday amid worsening coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in Australia. Announcing the decision, New Zealand’s Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said it was the right thing to do given the high transmissibility of the Delta variant and multiple community clusters identified in Australia.
A travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia was launched last year aimed at boosting international tourism as the two countries had been largely successful in preventing any major outbreak. The travellers on approved flights were exempted from the mandatory 14 days quarantine. Apart from minor snags, the travel bubble was working smoothly until the highly contagious Delta variant, first detected in India, entered Australia.
On Thursday, Australia reported 152 new Covid-19 cases and the bulk of them came from New South Wales capital Sydney. Some breakthrough cases have also been reported in Australia as concern around the Delta variant’s immune escape ability grows.
The rising number of Covid-19 cases in the largest Australian city has become a “national emergency”, New South Wales leaders said. The fresh outbreak has prompted leaders to call for ramping up the vaccination drive, which has been hampered due to problems with supplies of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and scepticism around the safety of AstraZeneca shots.
We have an obligation on behalf of the nation to contain the virus,” said New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian. “There is no doubt that the numbers are not going in the right direction.”
Amid the worrying surge, Australians will no longer be able to enter New Zealand quarantine-free. For the next seven days, New Zealanders from all Australian states and territories, except New South Wales, will be able to return on green flights with a Covid negative report in the pre-departure test. Those who have been to New South Wales will have to go into managed isolation and quarantine for 14 days.
“The decision to suspend travel follows updated public health advice from officials on the growing number of cases and locations of interest across Australia in recent days and weeks,” the New Zealand government said in a statement.