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Bursting point: 95-day timeline of the Tasman travel bubble

Thomas Bywater

Thomas Bywater is a writer and digital producer for Herald Travel

95-days on and the quarantine-free safe travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand is again in question.

The Prime Minister and Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield have announced their intention to close the bubble completely for two months over concerns for rising Covid cases in Australia.

This comes into effect from midnight tonight and is the longest total suspension since quarantine-free travel began on 19 April.

Back in April the bubble went off to a wobbly start, with a worker at Auckland Airport testing positive for Covid 19 the following day, on 20 April.

Quarantine-free travel continued, albeit with regular disruptions.

However, the rising cases of the Delta Variant in Australian states appears to be a growing concern. With the roll out of a Covid Vaccination programme still in the early stages on both sides of the Ditch, the remaining travel corridors are in the balance.

An extraordinary meeting of Prime Minister Ardern the Health and Covid 19 ministers yesterday led to much speculation on the bubble's future.

Travellers were further given the jitters after Air New Zealand published an automated message to ticketholders.

The message on the carrier's helpline said that they were already responding to "an extended pause of quarantine free travel between Australia and New Zealand."

Air New Zealand has since said that the message was recorded in error and that the information was incorrect. A spokesperson for the airline said this was due to an "oversimplification" and that they were busy responding to customer queries resulting from the New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia lockdowns.

This morning flights from still-quarantine free states saw last-minute prices rise to over $910 one way from Brisbane and $770 from Hobart to Auckland.

Last minute fares were at $910 one-way from Brisbane. Photo / Air New Zealand
Last minute fares were at $910 one-way from Brisbane. Photo / Air New Zealand

No seats are currently available out of Sydney via the Air New Zealand website on regular services until 16 August as "Managed return" flights continue to be the only way home from the state.

The suspension of quarantine free travel from states has put further strain on the already pressured MIQ facilities.

MIQ places are currently fully booked until December. Should additional travellers be required to book places in managed isolation facilities, this could lead to New Zealanders having to shelter in place. There are currently long waits for spaces.

MFAT's Safe Travel service has said that "Managed return flights continue for people stranded in NSW, return green flights are running for people stranded in South Australia."

Following South Australia's snap lockdown New Zealanders returning from Adelaide and SA were not required to book MIQ, providing they produce a negative Covid test within 72 hours of flying.

This will change as of midnight tonight.

"We strongly urge New Zealanders not to travel to Australia," said the Prime Minister today.

Air New Zealand has announced further "managed return" flights from New South Wales. These flights will begin from Wednesday 28 July, flying to Auckland.

There will be five flights over the next week and all passengers will go into MIQ.

Every passenger will be stopped and tested before they can fly.

MFAT and MBIE have been contacted by the Herald for further comment.

More to follow...

Timeline of Bubble blips

  • Tasman Bubble takes off

    Australia and New Zealand begin safe travel bubble arrangement

    19 April

  • A worker at Auckland Airport tests positive for Covid 19. Travel continues

    20 April

  • First blip: Western Australia

    Travel between New Zealand and Western Australia is suspended following a three-day lockdown in the metropolitan area of Perth. This comes the day after India, Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Pakistan are added to the "very-high-risk" list.

    24 April

  • New Zealand resumes quarantine-free travel with Western Australia.

    28 April

  • Flights from Western Australian paused for 24 hours.

    1 May

  • NSW is paused

    Quarantine-free travel is suspended between New South Wales following a community outbreak in Sydney, New Zealand's busiest air connection with Australia.

    6 May

  • New South Wales travel resumes.

    10 May

  • Rarotonga Bubble takes off

    Two-way quarantine free travel begins with Rarotonga and the Cook Islands travel bubble.

    18 May

  • Quarantine free travel from Victoria suspended for three days, following a community cluster in Melbourne.

    25 May

  • 5000 Kiwis told to isolate

    Travel pause extended from Victoria. 7-day lockdown announced for Melbourne announced. 5000 recent arrivals to New Zealand from the state of Victoria told to get tested and isolate at home.

    27 May

  • Melbourne and Victoria's travel pause extended for a further week.

    10 June

  • Victoria bubble pause further extended to 22 June. NZ health officials consider a pause from New South Wales but no action is taken.

    17 June

  • Quarantine-free travel is paused from New South Wales from midnight until June 25 following a growing community cluster. Victoria finally regains quarantine-free links to New Zealand.

    22 June

  • Wellington tourist tests positve

    Wellington goes into Level 2 Alert following the positive test from an Australian tourist, returning to Sydney after a weekend in the capital. The Cook Islands pause quarantine-free travel for travellers from Wellington.

    23 June

  • New South Wales pause extended until 6 July.

    24 June

  • Delta arrives in New Zealand

    Delta variant of Covid confirmed from Sydney tourist to Wellington. Total travel bubble paused from all Australian states for three days.

    26 June

  • Wellington Alert Level 2 extended until 30 June.

    27 June

  • Travel pause with Australia extended to midnight on 4 July. South Australia, ACT, Tasmania and Victoria deemed to be at least risk of opening. Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland and NSW are deemed higher risk - and subject to review on 6 July.

    29 June

  • Bubble resumes

    Partial Tasman Bubble resumes as planned. Western Australia set to resume from midnight on 9 July.

    4 July

  • Queensland and New South Wales pause continues

    7 July

  • Repatriation flights from Queensland resume.

    9 July

  • New South Wales bubble continues to be suspended. Repatriation flights begin from Sydney. Queensland regains travel bubble and quarantine-free flights.

    13 July

  • Eighteen notices issued to border workers for not complying with testing requirements.

    15 July

  • Victoria pauses quarantine free travel from 2pm, with lockdown restriction in the state.

    16 July

  • SA in Snap Lockdown

    South Australia pauses travel after snap lockdown declared in state.

    20 July

  • Prime Minister Ardern and cabinet call an extraordinary meeting over the state of the Tasman Travel Bubble.

    22 July

  • Bubble burst: Two month freeze announced

    Australian Travel Bubble is suspended for eight weeks over concerns for the rising cases in Australia. This is the longest suspension to date.

    23 July