Quarantine-free trans-Tasman bubble set to open, but ‘flyer beware’ remains a reality

In a new article on The Conversation, UC’s Professor Michael Plank and UoA’s Professor Shaun Hendy examine how New Zealand and Australia will manage the trans-Tasman bubble.

  • Travel post Covid-19

New Zealand’s government has announced a long-awaited quarantine-free travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia, beginning on April 19.

Provided there is no significant community outbreak in Australia, the risk of New Zealand importing cases of COVID-19 is very low. But should there be a community outbreak across the Tasman, the risk of bringing the virus into New Zealand could escalate rapidly, if travel numbers return to pre-COVID volumes.

This is why it will be critical to act swiftly if this happens.

Responding to a community outbreak

New Zealand and Australia have both had numerous outbreaks of COVID-19 originating from managed isolation facility or other border workers. Frontline border workers are being prioritised for vaccination in both countries, which will reduce the risk of this happening again. But it is still possible – and it’s therefore crucial we have a solid resurgence plan.

The New Zealand response to a new community case in Australia will be based on the same decision making we have seen used in response to community cases here. A new case with a clear link to the border poses a relatively low risk and can usually be managed by contact tracing without the need for restrictions. In this situation, travel could safely continue.

But, as our modelling has shown, a new case with no clear link to the border indicates a higher risk of community transmission and undetected cases. In this scenario, travel from that state would be suspended until the risk diminishes.

Once travel resumes, travellers may be asked to take a test, to self-isolate at home on return, or to go into managed isolation.

New Zealand wouldn’t have sufficient managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) capacity for everyone returning from even a single Australian state. Home isolation is the most likely option under most circumstances. But as long as people do what is asked of them, this will keep the risk of importing COVID-19 from Australia into New Zealand very low.

Flyer beware

People planning a trip across the Tasman should factor in the possibility of travel disruption before buying tickets. They should have contingency plans if they have to delay travel or self-isolate on return. Unfortunately, “flyer beware” is a reality of international travel during a pandemic.

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