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Ardern's promise to push trans-Tasman travel bubble forward

Business

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promised advancements on the trans-Tasman bubble.

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After months of hand-wringing and negotiations, a plan to allow quarantine-free travel for Australians to visit New Zealand will come before Ms Ardern’s Cabinet later Monday.

“It is close,” Ms Ardern said in interviews to breakfast TV shows on TVNZ and Three.

“No one should expect at the end of the day there will be an opening (and) today is not the day you’re going to get that final date and decision.

“But we do expect to be in a position to open up the bubble soon.”

Scott Morrison and Ardern first shook hands – virtually – on a trans-Tasman bubble in May last year.

Since then, outbreaks and a change in approach has forced delays to the restoration of pre-COVID travel arrangements.

Still, Australia’s three biggest states have opened their borders to Kiwi travellers.

For trans-Tasman families, airlines, airports and NZ tourism businesses, there’s a strong eagerness to get people moving again.

Around 600,000 Kiwis live in Australia, and 75,000 Australians call NZ home.

Ardern also wants to ensure the deadly virus does not return to Aotearoa.

“I’m cautious. People know that about the way that we’ve been operating,” she said.

“We have to make sure we don’t jeopardise domestic tourism by having outbreaks in NZ and that’s why we have to get this right.”

Ardern said any opening would require travellers to take on a degree of risk in the event of an outbreak where they are visiting.

“It’s very likely those New Zealanders would have to shelter in place,” she said.

“We have thousands of people who prior to COVID crossed the Tasman on both sides. We would not be in the position to repatriate thousands of New Zealanders to come back in a managed isolation arrangement.”

Last month, Ardern walked away from a pledge to open up the bubble by March, but the issue has gained a new prominence after the opposition shifted tack to support it.

Last week, 42,000 Kiwis signed a petition backed by the National party asking for the bubble to begin immediately.

Ardern denied politics was behind Labour’s new-found enthusiasm for its long-held policy.

“A petition doesn’t make this decision. We make it based on health advice,” she said.

“We never do anything we’re not ready to do.”

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