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Time For The Trans-Tasman Safe Travel Zone To Take Off

The Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum is calling for Australia and New Zealand to reconnect for two-way quarantine-free travel as soon as possible.

ANZLF Australian Co-chair Ann Sherry AO said: "It’s now 12 months since the 600,000 New Zealanders living in Australia and 75,000 Australians in New Zealand have been able to easily travel to see families and friends face-to-face and share important occasions like weddings and other milestone events.

"And it’s not just those wonderful, personal connections. Our countries are very closely linked economically, with around $27 billion in two-way trade flowing between New Zealand and Australia (pre-COVID19). This meant about 400,000 business trips a year across the Tasman. Plus, tourism companies on both sides have been left languishing without visitors from the other country - a gap that domestic tourism has struggled to fill.

"Things seem to have stalled since Australia opened its doors to New Zealanders travelling quarantine-free nearly six months ago. That one-way arrangement was based on an assessment by Australian health officials that New Zealand poses a low risk of COVID-19 transmission to Australia.

"Both countries have successfully managed the health risks of COVID-19, with testing and tracing regimes that are quickly snuffing out any cases appearing in the community. Now with vaccination rolling out in New Zealand and Australia it’s time the low risk of transmission between the countries is recognised with more open travel arrangements."

ANZLF New Zealand Co-chair Greg Lowe ONZM said the aviation sector has been preparing to re-launch trans-Tasman travel for some time.

"Last year the ANZLF worked in collaboration with the aviation sector to develop a comprehensive and detailed blueprint for a trans-Tasman Safe Travel Zone, that is, travel without a managed isolation period.

"It is now ten months since that plan was presented to both Prime Ministers for the two-way travel zone to be established. We appreciate the huge amount of time and energy by officials in both countries to reach agreement on the Safe Travel Zone, and the time has now come to get this done," said Mr Lowe.

Ann Sherry noted that the ANZLF blueprint recognised the different risk-profiles of travelers arriving at the border based on how prevalent COVID was in the communities they came from.

"The aviation sector has introduced new processes, infrastructure management, enhanced cleaning protocols and the like, to manage the different risk levels. Australia has also responded with temporary suspensions of its quarantine-free travel when COVID-19 cases emerged in New Zealand. On each occasion the bubble was reopened after a short period once risk assessments were carried out," said Ms Sherry.

Mr Lowe said that ideally travel would not be suspended at short notice whenever there is a COVID-19 case in the community.

"But we have to be realistic. Short, sharp border closures are how each country has been operating, including at a domestic level, to manage community hotspots and both governments will want to be able to pull those levers on trans-Tasman travel if necessary, alongside other possible measures such as pre-departure COVID testing.

"What’s needed now is for the governments together with the aviation sector, to provide clarity to travellers as to how the system will work and what strategies will come in to play if there is a community hotspot in either country. Travellers can then make an informed decision on the risks associated with travel across the Tasman."

Ann Sherry noted the news this week that Australia and Singapore have expressed interest in opening up a travel bubble between them.

"We say get the trans-Tasman safe travel zone opened first - the risks are low, and the planning has been done. New Zealand and Australia have complimentary approaches in terms of managing the community spread of COVID-19 which has put us both in an enviable position globally. With vaccination in full swing on both sides of the Tasman, that must have a positive bearing on the border reopening strategies of each country. Let’s capitalise on these advantages and get two-way travel flowing again."

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