The New Zealand government has suspended the travel bubble with Australia, saying the threat from ongoing Delta COVID-19 outbreaks is now too great.
From 11:59pm on Friday, Australians will be unable to travel to New Zealand on quarantine-free flights, and New Zealanders returning home will face a range of quarantine and self-isolation measures.
This suspension will be in place for at least the next eight weeks.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday "the Delta variant has materially changed the risk profile".
"Now is the time for a suspension to ensure new Zealanders aren't put at undue risk from COVID-19," she said.
"Our team of 5 million has worked hard to put us in a strong position — both health wise and economically — and we will not risk that."
Quarantine-free flights from New Zealand to Australia began in October, and from Australia to New Zealand in April this year.
The so-called "green zone flights" allowed travellers to move between the two countries without quarantining at their destination.
Flights to New Zealand inside the bubble have been paused and restarted as different Australian states have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks.
The bubble is already closed to travellers flying into New Zealand from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia as those states battle COVID-19 outbreaks.
New South Wales recorded 136 new cases of community transmission in the 24 hours to 8:00pm Thursday — the highest number of new daily cases since the outbreak began last month. Victoria recorded 14 new cases in the same period.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the move was a reasonable one.
"The New Zealand government has been consistent in their policies and we respect their policies and this is a virus that is affecting the world and we should not think that we are any different," she said.
Getting New Zealanders home
For New Zealanders returning home from Australia there are different conditions of entry based on where they have been.
Ms Ardern said her government was committed to getting New Zealanders home before the full suspension came into effect.
"My strong message to every New Zealander who is in Australia right now who has no intention of staying there long term is come home," she said.
"For the next seven days we will have managed return flights for New Zealanders from all states and territories.
"Only New Zealand citizens and those ordinarily resident in New Zealand will be able to fly home."
Ms Ardern stressed New Zealanders returning home would not face any new hotel quarantine requirements due to the latest announcements.
Quarantine-free travel had already been suspended from New South Wales, so anyone returning to New Zealand from Sydney will still have to go into hotel quarantine for 14 days.
"That requirement remains unchanged," Ms Ardern said.
"Those who have been in Victoria must have proof of a negative pre-departure test and must immediately self-isolate upon return to New Zealand and return a negative day three test before ending their period of isolation.
"For everyone else, you can fly home providing you have evidence of a negative pre-departure test, which is our existing arrangement."
Ms Ardern said the full suspension of quarantine-free travel would be fully implemented once the demand for New Zealanders to return home had been exhausted, likely to be in seven days.
“That means all incoming travellers from Australia will need to have a spot in managed isolation,” she said.
Ms Ardern said the country's hotel quarantine system was under considerable pressure and discouraged New Zealanders from travelling to Australia over the next eight weeks.
‘We do want the bubble to resume’
The travel bubble has been paused at a national level before.
New Zealand paused the bubble for all states and territories late last month, before restarting flights departing some Australian states and territories just over a week later.
Ms Ardern said she was committed to the bubble.
“We do want the bubble to resume ... but it must be safe," she said.
In eight weeks' time, when the suspension is reassessed, New Zealand authorities will be looking for certain conditions to be met, including that:
- The outbreak "in NSW and wider Australia" is contained
- Any remaining cases are generally linked
- The number of community transmission cases were low
"We'd want to ensure that New Zealand's elimination strategy was not at risk from resuming quarantine-free travel," Ms Ardern said.
When the trans-Tasman bubble was announced, Ms Ardern said it would be a case of "flyer beware", noting the bubble arrangement could change at any time and at short notice. [Click through to send us your questions about COVID-19]