New Zealand suspends travel bubble with Australia

The trans-Tasman bubble with Australia will be suspended for two months, as the country struggles to contain a weeks-long outbreak, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced

The bubble will pause from 11.59pm on Friday night, but there will be managed return flights over the next seven days to allow Kiwi citizens and residents to come home.

Those outside of Victoria and New South Wales will be able to get on these flights and not go through managed isolation – but everyone will need a negative pre-departure test.

Those in New South Wales will need to go through managed isolation.

Those in Victoria will be able to self-isolate at home, with similar testing requirements to those in managed isolation.

“My strong message to every New Zealander in Australia right now who does not want to stay there long term is – come home,” Ms Ardern said.

After those seven days of return flights, Ms Ardern said Kiwis would have to obtain a managed isolation spot like everyone else, and enough space could not be guaranteed.

The bubble, already shut for many states, was designed to allow New Zealanders and Australians to travel between the countries without staying in mandatory managed isolation hotels.

Both countries had essentially eliminated COVID-19 when the bubble was launched, but border leakages in Australia and subsequent outbreaks have seen parts of the bubble shut several times.

The large outbreak in NSW grew by 136 community cases today, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian describing the situation as a national emergency.

That outbreak has spread to other states and caused a lockdown in Victoria, where 14 new cases were recorded.

Ms Ardern made the announcement after a special virtual Cabinet meeting on Thursday, held while she was planning to be on holiday.

The bubble was already paused with NSW, Victoria, and South Australia.

Ms Ardern said the decision was based on a recommendation from health officials.

“We’ve acted out of an abundance of caution and will continue to do so,” Ms Ardern said.

She said the highly-infectious Delta variant had changed the risk profile significantly.

Stuff has revealed that many passengers’ pre-departure tests were not being checked on their way into the country, despite the requirement that all trans-Tasman travellers obtain one.

Of those who are checked, 100 people have been caught without the needed test.

Ms Ardern said from now on all tests would definitely be checked.

Ms Ardern passed on some condolences to Australia, saying New Zealand was a “friend” willing the country a a “speedy recovery”.

She emphasised that 53 of the new cases in NSW revealed in the last 24 hours had been symptomatic while in the community, and the source of infection for many of them was not yet known.