New Zealand expects Australia ‘travel bubble’ to stay open despite new virus case

The infected worker, who was fully vaccinated for the virus, had been cleaning airplanes coming from countries with known virus outbreaks.
The infected worker, who was fully vaccinated for the virus, had been cleaning airplanes coming from countries with known virus outbreaks.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS, AFP) - The New Zealand authorities reported on Tuesday (April 20) that a worker in Auckland airport has tested positive for Covid-19, but doubted whether the new case would warrant ordering a pause in quarantine-free travel with Australia. 

Australia and New Zealand opened a travel bubble on Monday, after both countries had closed borders in March 2020 to non-citizens and permanent residents to contain the pandemic. 

"When we opened, on both sides, we of course knew we would continue to have cases connected to our border," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

"We accept that's going to be part of our journey together; I think Australia accepts that."

New Zealand's health authorities were liaising with their Australian counterparts, Ms Ardern said, with no initial indication that the so-called "travel bubble" would be halted. 

The travel arrangement between the countries means that for the first time in almost 400 days, passengers can fly across the Tasman Sea without undergoing mandatory Covid-19 quarantine when they arrive.

The infected worker, who was fully vaccinated for the virus, had been cleaning airplanes coming from countries with known virus outbreaks, Ms Ardern told reporters.

The worker tested negative on April 12 but tested positive on April 19 as part of routine testing, she said, adding that contact tracing was under way.

Australia Health Minister Greg Hunt said he has "full confidence" in New Zealand's health system to contain the new infection. 

"We've seen them deal with the inevitable outbreaks and there will be other days when there are cases in Australia," Mr Hunt said during a televised media briefing in Melbourne.

Australia was New Zealand's largest source of international tourists before the pandemic, accounting for about 1.5 million arrivals or 40 per cent of total visitors in 2019.

Australia is home to hundreds of thousands of expatriate New Zealanders and before Covid-19 hit, many regularly shuttled back and forth across the Tasman on three-hour flights.

More than half a million New Zealand-born people live in Australia, just over 2 per cent of Australia's population of near 26 million.

Border closures, snap lockdowns and speedy tracing systems have helped Australia and New Zealand keep their Covid-19 numbers relatively low. 

Australia has recorded just over 29,500 virus cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began, while New Zealand has had just over 2,200 confirmed cases and 26 deaths.