Imagine a world where covid-19 exists only on the television, bars are full and sports teams are playing to roaring crowds, rather than the sound of crickets. In Australia and New Zealand, that’s a reality, and now, travel between the two has resumed, with the world’s most exclusive travel bubble.
It’s the news of dreams for families separated by the Tasman sea for far too long, but the bubble also brings endless wonder about how the two countries will ever open to wider international tourism, given the exacting standards set to keep the virus out of these two Pacific dreamlands.
Update: Less than a week into the travel bubble, a lockdown in Western Australia prompted a pause of quarantine free travel between all of Australia and New Zealand. In other words, the bubble has already partially bust. Travel between other areas of Australia and New Zealand remains in tact.
Australia & New Zealand (Finally) Open Travel Bubble
Soap operas have nothing on the Trans-Tasman travel bubble. After months of delay spanning the better part of 7 months, truly quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand now exists, finally.
Technically, the bubble opened on October 16th, 2020, but the reality was that it was only a one way street, with New Zealand still imposing quarantine.
New Zealanders could come to Australia quarantine free, but anyone going to New Zealand, or returning after a trip from Australia enjoyed the full two week supervised lockdown, at a cost. In other words, no one used it. That’s all changed.
Today, April 19th, marked the first day of a full fledged international travel bubble, and the demand was instant. Passengers reconnected with family for the first time in over a year, and the BBC reports tearful scenes at airports on both sides of the Tasman.
Qantas even reopened its famed international first and business class lounges in a show of excitement. Other airlines have chosen to keep the “good stuff” pared back, until meaningful passenger volume resumes.
But What’s Next For International Movement?
For countries including the US, UK and most of Europe, along with much of the world which never pursued an eradication strategy like Australia or New Zealand, opening travel can now come easily and quickly, as vaccination ramps up.
The strategy was never zero cases, but rather to mitigate as many as possible, to turn this awful virus into one with risk factors in line with other viruses and illnesses people face every year, and always have.
Opening travel to other countries with similar strategies is relatively easy thanks to covid-19 testing and proof of vaccination, particularly as digital health passports help to verify testing and vaccination proof.
But with Australia and New Zealand pursuing an “all or nothing” strategy, with either an all clear and zero cases, or no travel and no bubble, it’s not going to be easy to bring other countries into the fold. Hong Kong and Singapore are arguably the two next best, but haven’t managed to reach the success of Australia or New Zealand.
Proposals for travel bubbles between Hong Kong and Singapore have fizzled, or burst – wink, wink – on multiple occasions, with just a slight up tick in cases.
If neither of those countries can get it going, it’s going to be a long time before the rest of the world is able to visit these South Pacific gems without intensive quarantine, unless something changes.
Australia also drew ire for the fact that many Australians still await a chance to go home, after more than a year of waiting for repatriation flights, while A-list, and even Z-list celebrities abroad have been let in, without issue. Exceptions for celeb visitors even removed the need to quarantine in hotel with the rest of the public.
A Mixed Bag For Travel
For travelers presently with their feet on the ground in Australia or New Zealand, it’s a joyous time as the two countries embrace travel once again. And to be fair, there’s not really much the two destinations don’t cover, or offer, either.
You can ski in Queenstown and then hop a flight to the world’s most stunning beaches, all without leaving the bubble. City life in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth is not too shabby either.
This pursuit of covid-19 excellence won’t come without travel challenges or risks as the rest of the world catches up and moves on to safety strategies, rather than to blanket travel bans. Vaccination may hold the eventual key, but Australia and New Zealand are both lagging behind world leaders in vaccination, which means it may be quite a while before that key unlocks any travel.