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Australia and New Zealand on Monday started their first quarantine-free flights since the pandemic began, after they successfully halted Covid-19 transmissions from spreading through their nations.
The flights reflect “a world-leading arrangement that opens up travel while aiming to keep Covid-19 out of the community,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern said in a joint statement. Before Monday, travelers between the nations were required to quarantine for at least two weeks upon arrival, usually in hotels designated to receive overseas arrivals.
Still, Australia’s government — which is battling criticism over delays in its vaccination strategy — hasn’t been willing to commit to any timeline for it might begin relaxing restrictions on travel to or from other nations.
Morrison will meet with state and territory leaders on Monday as he launches twice-weekly meetings of the National Cabinet to talk about ways to speed up the country’s coronavirus vaccination rollout.
Also expected to be discussed is the prime minister’s call for Australians to be allowed to quarantine in their homes in a bid to allow the more than 30,000 Australians stranded overseas to return more rapidly. Some state health authorities have voiced resistance to those plans.
Qantas Airways Ltd. is resuming flights to all pre-pandemic destinations in New Zealand, and will also start a new route between the Gold Coast and Auckland. In total, the airline will operate around 200 flights a week between Australia and New Zealand. “We’ve seen strong demand since the bubble was announced, with tens of thousands of bookings made in the first few days,” Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said in a statement Monday.
While both the Australia and New Zealand leaders said they are also exploring opportunities to extend quarantine-free travel to other countries in the Pacific region, Morrison is indicating broader international travel remains off the agenda.
“I’m not going to put at risk the way that Australians are living today,” Morrison said on Sunday. “We can take small steps — we’re not ready to take those steps yet, for Australians to travel and return without quarantining. In a few months from now we’ll see where we’re at.”
— With assistance by Angus Whitley