Trans-Tasman bubble: when is it happening?

SHAY WARAKER
Australia and New Zealand have always had a unique relationship – from ‘friendly’ matches of cricket or rugby through to never really settling who created the sweet meringue-goodness we call pavlova. Residents from each country have also enjoyed relatively straightforward travel back and forth without needing to apply for a visa. That is until the coronavirus pandemic hit our shores.

In a potential world-first step in reintroducing international travel, Australia and New Zealand are now set to open a trans-Tasman bubble that enables travel between the two countries without the need to quarantine at either end. But when will this commence and how exactly will this bubble work in practice?

In this article, we look at:

What is a travel bubble?

A travel bubble is an arrangement between the governments of countries that enables travel between them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have closed their borders to international travellers to contain the spread of the virus or required a strict quarantine program to be adhered to by any new arrivals. A travel bubble may be arranged between countries that are deemed relatively safe, meaning community transmission of the virus is low or non-existent, and can allow travellers to enter without mandatory quarantine on arrival.

When will the trans-Tasman bubble open?

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the two-way bubble would commence at 11:59pm on 18 April. However, she has said it will not be the same as travel pre-COVID.

“While we absolutely wish to encourage family and friends to reunite and visitors to come and enjoy the hospitality New Zealand is ready and waiting to offer, those undertaking travel on either side of the ditch will do so with the guidance of flyer beware. People will need to plan for the possibility of travel being disrupted if there is an outbreak,” Ardern said.

 

New Zealand travel
A campervan drives near Mt Cook, New Zealand. Source: Onsuda (Shutterstock)

How will the trans-Tasman travel bubble work?

Once the trans-Tasman bubble has opened, it will enable passengers from Australia and New Zealand to travel freely between the countries without needing to quarantine (if booking on a “green zone flight”). There will be some caveats included, such as the requirement to quarantine if you recently visited a hotspot, as determined by state or federal government.

“Passengers will need to provide comprehensive information on how they can be contacted while in New Zealand. They won’t be able to travel is they have cold or flu symptoms,” Ardern said.

Passengers will be required to wear a mask while on the plane and on arrival will be taken through “green zones” at the airport, meaning they will not have contact with people arriving from other parts of the world who are about to undertake isolation or quarantine.

All travellers to New Zealand will be requested to download and use the NZ COVID Tracer app for use while in New Zealand.

What happens if there is an outbreak?

Ardern said travellers must follow guidelines locally but when entering New Zealand they could be asked to do one of four things, depending on their risk.

“Either, simply monitor their symptoms on return. Two – take a rest before they depart. Three – isolate on arrival. Or four – possibly, in some situations, go into managed isolation for up to 14 days,” Ardern said.

“If a case is found that is quite clearly linked to a border worker in a quarantine facility and is well contained, you’ll likely see travel continue in the same way… If, however, a case was found that was not clearly linked to the border, and a state responded by a short lockdown to identify more information, we’d likely pause flights from that state in the same way we would stop travel into and out of a region in New Zealand, as if it was going into a full lockdown. And if we saw multiple cases of unknown origin, we would likely suspend flights for a set period of time.”

The bubble has been established in a way that should enable some flexibility with the ability to pause or suspend flights in one state while continuing travel to others that are unaffected.

Ardern said there would be no government support for people who found themselves stranded due to an outbreak and suggested travellers prepare in case there is a pause or suspension in travel.

Can I travel from New Zealand to Australia now?

Currently, anyone flying from Australia to New Zealand is required to carry documents to show they have secured one of the limited spots at an approved facility to undergo the managed isolation program.

New Zealand residents or people with visas can fly to eligible Safe Travel Zones in Australia, which, at the time of writing, includes all states and territories except WA, without needing to quarantine on arrival, provided they meet the Australian Government’s criteria. Currently Air New Zealand is offering quarantine-free flights from Auckland to Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.

To avoid quarantine, passengers must fly to Australia on a designated quarantine-free flight and present an Australian Travel Declaration at check-in, confirming they have only been in New Zealand over the last 14 days and have not been in a designated COVID-19 outbreak location, with the same conditions applying for every traveller on the same flight. Speak with your airline to determine whether your planned flight is quarantine free as not all are, and you may be required to quarantine for two weeks at your expense. Red and green zones have been created at Australian airports to facilitate the quarantine process, with passengers separated based on whether they’ve arrived on a ‘quarantine free’ flight or need to enter quarantine.

It is a good idea to keep an eye on the news, New Zealand Government’s SafeTravel and Australian Government’s Department of Home Affairs and Smartraveller websites for updates prior to your flight to check whether there are any hotspots where you currently are or plan on travelling to.

What if I book a flight and there is an outbreak or my circumstances change?

It is important to familiarise yourself with the refund policy of your airline before you purchase your ticket. Most airlines are offering more flexibility in light of the coronavirus pandemic. For example, Qantas is offering to waive the change fee if passengers choose to change the date of their travel booked before 31 July, 2021. If a flight is cancelled, Qantas will rebook passengers on the next available flight or offer a flight credit or refund.

Air New Zealand is offering free changes or credit if passengers need to cancel trips for all travel up until 30 June, 2021.

Travel insurance is not likely to cover your costs for cancellations. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says cancellations made because of restrictions enforced by a government may not result in an automatic refund.

Canstar finance expert Steve Mickenbecker said anyone planning on travelling and buying travel insurance should get to know the cancellation coverage of the policy, as changing plans due to coronavirus-related events were unlikely to be covered.

“Most policies have a ‘known events’ clause, which means that if the event is already a known risk when the policy is taken out, you will not be covered,” he said.

At the time of writing, there are limited travel insurance companies on Canstar’s database that offer some form of cover for COVID-19 claims for travel to New Zealand.

Should I take out travel insurance when travelling to New Zealand?

While most policies are unlikely to cover coronavirus-related claims, having travel insurance may cover claims for expenses such as:

  • Cancellation of flights, accommodation and tours
  • Cover for theft or lost luggage and personal items
  • Overseas emergency medical expenses (for expenses outside the reciprocal health care agreement)
  • Rental car insurance excess

Each policy will vary in the extent of coverage it offers including what is and isn’t covered as well as any limits to amounts you can claim. It is a good idea to read the product disclosure statement (PDS) of a policy before you decide which is right for you.

“One big thing that has come out of this crisis is that people are much more aware of the risks when it comes to travelling, and are more aware that not all insurance policies are equal,” Mr Mickenbecker said.

“It has shown that people should not only look at the premium costs when they buy insurance, but also what the policy includes and excludes. Anyone buying insurance should read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) very carefully, to see if there are pandemic or epidemic exclusions, and what cancellation costs are covered and under what circumstances those cancellations would be covered.

“If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything about travel insurance, it’s that the earlier you buy your insurance, the better. Once you part with money for flights and accommodation, that’s the time to buy insurance or you could be at risk of not being able to buy cover for certain things later on.”

Cover image source: Galina Gorkavay (Shutterstock.com). Fun fact, Kiwifruit actually originated from China, not New Zealand. 


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This article was reviewed by our Deputy Editor Sean Callery and Sub Editor Jacqueline Belesky before it was updated, as part of our fact-checking process.


Shay has worked in content for over a decade. Her experience includes PR and copywriting in Australia and the UK where she consulted to Lloyds Banking Group. She also gained work experience at Czech Republic English-language newspaper The Prague Post and Quest newspaper The Wynnum Herald.