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New Zealand agrees to create travel bubble with Australia

Sydney, Australia, Dec 14 (efe-epa).- New Zealand has agreed “in principle” to opening up a travel bubble with Australia early next year, the country’s prime minister announced Monday.

The commencement of the quarantine-free initiative is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2021, with the date to be announced in the new year,

It will come “pending confirmation from the Australian Cabinet and no significant change in the circumstances of either country,” Jacinda Ardern announced in the last post-Cabinet press conference for “a year nobody would have imagined.”

One of the criteria is 28 days free of community transmission, and contingencies in place in the event of an outbreak that may see borders closed and thousands of citizens looking to return home into managed isolation.

In Australia, Health Minister Greg Hunt welcomed the plan, saying the government is “absolutely” likely to approve and that the plan is “good for Australians and it’s good for New Zealanders.”

“We are ready to implement from our side as soon as New Zealand is ready,” he said.

Australia had already approved quarantine-free entry for New Zealanders into most states, and kiwis must go into state quarantine on their return home. Ardern had indicated she was not ready to open up the borders in the opposite direction, until now.

“[New Zealand’s decision] is the second half of the equation. We consciously opened up Australia to people coming from New Zealand because their case numbers were negligible and we knew there would come a time when our case numbers gave them confidence,” Hunt said.

“So this is a sign that New Zealand and Australia are not just working together, but that families can be back together in both directions. Friends can be back together in both directions.”

It is estimated there are around 568,000 New Zealanders living in Australia, creating a busy travel corridor between the neighboring countries – until the pandemic began and border closures kept trans-Tasman families apart.

Pre-pandemic, New Zealand also accounted for almost half of Australia’s international visitor arrivals.

Wellington on Saturday also agreed to create a reciprocal travel bubble with the Covid-free Cook Islands in the South Pacific, which has a free association arrangement with New Zealand, by end of March next year. It is expected to be the first to get off the ground.

Both Australia and New Zealand closed their borders in March, and have since mostly allowed only their respective residents and citizens to enter.

The two governments began to explore the opening of an air corridor between the countries months ago as a measure to mitigate the economic effects of Covid-19.

New Zealand has recorded 2,096 cases of Covid-19, including 25 deaths, while Australia has surpassed 28,030 cases, and 908 deaths (including 20,352 cases and 820 deaths in the state of Victoria). EFE-EPA

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