5 Jun 2020

Trans-Tasman bubble plan from expert group given to prime ministers

9:12 am on 5 June 2020

A blueprint for a trans-Tasman travel bubble is on the desks of both the New Zealand and Australian prime ministers.

Passengers arrrive at Auckland Airport Monday 16 March

File image shows passengers arriving at Auckland Airport on 16 March 2020. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group, comprising 40 business and government representatives from both countries, has sent its recommendations for a safe air corridor to both governments.

These include multiple layers of protection to ensure passengers do not bring Covid-19 with them when flights resume.

The details are still under wraps, but the report prepared over the past three weeks is understood to align with new international guidelines for masks and temperature screening.

One of its co-chairs, Scott Tasker of Auckland Airport, said the plan aligned with international guidance and would do away with the need for 14-day quarantine.

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He said the recommendations allowed for risks to be managed and gave travellers confidence they could travel safely.

The government has not said when trans-Tasman travel might begin.

Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood, who is part of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, said the objective of the safe border group's proposals was to remove the need for quarantine.

"That is based off the health performance of both countries, the health management of both countries being to the level it is at," he told Morning Report.

"[If the proposals] need further work then we're willing to do that ... and the decision on when to open is one for government and officials to make."

Littlewood said some states of Australia were doing better than others at eradicating Covid-19, and it should be possible to resume flights state by state.

"Certainly if they have closed borders in some states it should be possible, and I think we should be looking at the risks on their merits.

"But again, that should be for the health officials to make that decision."

New Zealand and Australia already had a strong foundation in terms of information-sharing protocols and standards, he said.

"Even things like the reciprocal health arrangement that already exists means our two countries are in a good position to start this process maybe ahead of other destinations".

Littlewood said there were likely to be many country-to-country arrangements, such as the one proposed by Japan for letting in business travellers from countries with low Covid-19 infection rates, including New Zealand, without the need for quarantine

"I can see situations where country-to-country protocols and commitments will be established as opening starts to happen, and naturally New Zealand needs to be part of that.

"I think we qualify as a good performer in virus management to be at the top of the list for many other countries looking to open."

It was a reversal of the open skies philosophy connecting to all destinations, but the aviation industry had dealt with something similar decades ago, when passengers had to have yellow fever immunisation documents in order to enter a country.

"Some of those pre-qualification requirements will be a feature of travel in the immediate future and I think we will have to get ready for that new normal."

Chambers of commerce on both sides of the Tasman have also suggested trial flights between Wellington and Canberra as a way to test procedures.

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