A 'travel bubble' between Australia and New Zealand is on the cards. Here's what that means.


International travel will be the last industry to return to normal – or a new normal – after the coronavirus pandemic, but residents in Australia and New Zealand may be able to pack their bags for a trip across the Tasman long before the rest of the world opens its borders.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will sit in on Tuesday’s National Cabinet meeting where the possibility of a “trans-Tasman bubble” will be discussed which would allow travel between the two countries, an exception to the strict travel measures imposed by nations all around the world.

Side note: these are the people you’ll run into at the airport. Post continues below video.

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It’s an ambitious plan buoyed by our geography, far from other nations and without land borders, and our successes in getting COVID-19 under control.

The New Zealand ski season is an Aussie travel favourite, and Kiwis are always keen for some Queensland sun – so should we be dusting off our suitcases? Here’s what we know about the ‘trans-Tasman bubble’.

Current border restrictions.

On March 14, Ardern announced all travellers entering NZ were required to quarantine for 14 days. She said at the time it was the “widest-ranging and toughest border restrictions of any country in the world,” though soon after many other countries announced similarly strict measures.


The following day, Morrison announced the same would apply to travellers entering Australia.

Australia has since tightened its border rules to allow only residents and citizens and their families in with a 14-day mandatory hotel quarantine, and New Zealand has banned any non-resident or citizen from entering. Kiwis who return are also placed in a 14-day hotel quarantine.

The ‘bubble’ idea.

New Zealand Government Coronavirus Update As Country Moves To Alert Level 3 Lockdown Measures
Jacinda Ardern will discuss the possibility of a 'trans-Tasman bubble' with Australia today. Image: Mark Mitchell-Pool/Getty.

A 'trans-Tasman bubble' is an idea that has been floating around for a couple of weeks now, first floated as a prospect by Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand and Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters on April 15.

"Our figures with Australia, it's almost as if we've got a trans-Tasman bubble between our two countries, and if the figures keep on going that way, then that is a serious possibility," he said.

"We are exploring that as we speak."

At first Prime Minister Scott Morrison seemed unconvinced, saying he was aware of New Zealand's interest but the government was "not at present contemplating any border changes".

The government's interest seems to have quickly changed, with Morrison saying the following week "if there is any country in the world with whom we can reconnect with first, undoubtedly that's New Zealand".

On April 27, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also talked up the idea. He said "an arrangement with New Zealand" would be one of the first things to examine, in regards to "steps toward making sure that people could travel safely".

"New Zealand would be the natural partner," he said, adding that he thinks it would be "logical in the short-to-medium term."


When could it happen?

Ardern on Monday confirmed she and Australian officials would talk about the bubble at Tuesday's cabinet meeting, but advised caution for those getting their hopes up about international travel in the immediate future.

trans tasman bubble travel
Image: Getty.

The move is still weeks, if not months away.

"From the conversations we've had to date, we have a very similar perspective of the kind of timeline we will want to run to. In our minds the health of our people is incredibly important. In New Zealand we don't want to give away the gains that we've had, and Australia doesn't want to introduce any risk either," she said.


"Don't expect this to happen in a couple of weeks time. As you can imagine we need to make sure we are locking in the gains that all New Zealanders have helped us achieve, and make sure we have health precautions in place to make sure we do this safely, and well."

COVID-19 in both countries.

Both Australia and New Zealand have successfully flattened the curve and slowed the spread of the coronavirus on their shores, and both are beginning to ease restrictions.

Australia's changes are happening at a state level, with South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales easing restrictions to varying degrees in past days.

After a five week full lockdown, New Zealand is now in 'level 3', with most Kiwis still working from home. A decision on whether to move to 'level 2', where most of the economy can reopen with social distancing measures, is expected within the week.

As of Monday afternoon, Australia has 6825 cases and 96 deaths, while New Zealand has reported 1487 cases and 20 deaths. Monday marked no new coronavirus cases in New Zealand for the first time in 49 days.

Our success has put us in the "enviable" position of being able to plan possible international travel between the nations, Ardern said on Monday, and other countries around the world will be looking on with interest.


What would a bubble look like?

On Monday, Ardern confirmed a bubble arrangement would allow Australians and New Zealanders to travel without mandatory quarantine measures.

trans tasman bubble travel
Image: Getty.

Opening up travel routes would be majorly beneficial to both economies: New Zealanders are the second biggest visitors to Australia after China - 1.43 million Kiwis made the trip and injected a total of $2.6 billion into the economy in 2019, according to Tourism Australia data, and New Zealand is the number one outbound destination for Australian travellers.


Travel between both countries is also a major route for business travel and VFR: visiting friends and relatives, so the routes benefit from high demand which will have pent-up during the pandemic.

How would it work?

Most of the details are unknown, but both countries would need to coordinate decisions around border restrictions to other countries in order for the bubble to work.

The idea of including the Pacific islands in the bubble has been suggested by media, but neither government have suggested that has been discussed so far.

Ardern told reporters on Monday she would share details of how the meeting went on Tuesday, and Morrison will likely do the same.

One high-profile trans-Tasman journey has already taken place after the federal government made an exemption to allow the New Zealand Warriors to travel to New South Wales, where they will base themselves as the 2020 NRL season attempts to get back up and running on May 28.

The permission was granted by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, which allowed the players and staff to land in Tamworth, where they will be quarantined for 14 days while allowed to train and prepare for the season.

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Feature image: Getty.