Monday marked the opening of a “travel bubble” between Australia and New Zealand that allows Australians to visit New Zealand without entering a mandatory coronavirus quarantine period.
Arrival gates at Wellington International Airport were the scenes of long-awaited emotional reunions between New Zealanders and their expatriate friends and family members who made the 4,155 kilometer flight from Australia, having endured more than a year of separation because of the pandemic. The airport painted an enormous welcome sign near its main runway to greet the planes as they landed.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the first day of quarantine-free travel between the two nations “an important milestone” that could boost her country’s economy by as much as $1 billion. About 1.5 million Australians visited New Zealand in 2019, making up about 40 % of all international travelers to the Pacific nation.
Australia and New Zealand have been largely successful in controlling the spread of COVID-19, closing their borders when the pandemic began and imposing strict quarantine requirements for travelers returning from other countries.
Australia has 29,533 confirmed cases, including 910 deaths, while New Zealand has just 2,596 cases with only 26 deaths, setting the template for coronavirus response efforts, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Parts of Australia have for several months allowed people from New Zealand to visit without them going into quarantine, but New Zealand has required a mandatory quarantine on all visiting Australians.
Both Ardern and her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison have warned travelers the bubble could end if any new COVID-19 outbreaks occur.