Jacinda Ardern has given rise to the prospect of trans-Tasman families spending a second-straight Christmas apart due to New Zealand’s border settings.
The New Zealand prime minister has pushed out her forecast for the resumption of quarantine-free travel across the Tasman, with the possibility it may not occur again this year.
With COVID-19 outbreaks raging in New Zealand, NSW, Victoria and the ACT, there’s no prospect of the trans-Tasman bubble returning in the short-term.
New Zealand suspended the bubble for eight weeks last month, citing the increased threat of Delta, blocking flights until September 18.
Now, Ms Ardern says her government won’t review the trans-Tasman travel arrangement until the end of September, adding it is “too soon for us to say” whether flights will return by Christmas.
In the past 24 hours, both Qantas and Air New Zealand – the two airlines to operate trans-Tasman bubble services – have given forecasts for the resumption of normal services.
Qantas has advised fliers it expects trans-Tasman services to be grounded until mid-December 2021.
Air New Zealand boss Greg Foran has given November as the earliest month for take-off.
“It’s going to be very difficult for both countries to get the case numbers down to where (the bubble) can operate as a free and open border,” he said.
Mr Foran signalled his scepticism the bubble will ever return, saying proof of vaccination and pre-departure tests would be likely required.
In Wellington on Friday, Ms Ardern denied giving the airlines an advance on the government’s thinking.
“We haven’t received any advice so we’ve given no advice,” she said.
After recording 70 cases on Friday, Ms Ardern said NZ’s current outbreak was both the focus of her attention and likely to stop any bubble changes.
“It’s very clear that a bubble right now is just not a goer,” she said.
“End of September, we are going to look at those settings and just give a bit of a long-term view as to what was going to happen because I know a lot of people hanging on those timelines.”
Asked whether a reopening before Christmas was her ambition, Ms Ardern was non-committal.
“It’s too soon for us to say,” she said.
“It’s not just up to us. States, for the most part, have an elimination strategy themselves. They’ll want to make sure that they’re open to countries they consider to be safe.
“What we will do at the end of September is give an indication of where we think things are heading because people are planning around that. We need to give them some long term certainty as much as we can.”
New Zealand’s closure of the quarantine-free travel arrangement with Australia did not prevent the dreaded Delta variant from reaching Aotearoa.
Earlier this month, the highly infectious variant entered the community through a border failure.
The current outbreak – which has infected 347 Kiwis and counting – has been sourced back to a returning traveller from Sydney on a “red zone” flight on August 7.
Investigations continue into how the virus slipped from quarantine into the community.