- New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern indicated on Monday that the latest spike of COVID-19 cases in Victoria could delay a travel bubble between the country and Australia.
- In an interview with public broadcaster TVNZ, Ardern suggested New Zealand could open up exclusively with certain states who had successfully contained the virus.
- "If it's whole country, we'll be waiting because obviously there is community transmission in Victoria and we can't risk that," she said.
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While the rest of the world appears off-limits, travel across the Tasman has been held out as Australia's sole hope of international tourism.
The travel bubble, which had been speculated to open up as soon as this month looks like it's becoming a more far off possibility as Victoria experiences a second spike in COVID-19 cases.
"We have a system that would work with a state-by-state approach or a whole country approach; if it's whole country we'll be waiting because obviously there is community transmission in Victoria and we can't risk that," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told local network TVNZ on Monday.
Ardern's comments foreshadowed the decision to close the New South Wales and Victorian border for the first time in a century.
"Some of the states have actually put their own borders up, so they've created their own state bubbles," she said.
"So if Australia chose to say, 'Well OK, we have a COVID-free state,' and they're in a position where they can travel that would be up to them," she said, suggesting a bubble could survive with a state-based approach.
As 182 new cases were confirmed in Victoria over the weekend, the Andrews government have moved to tighten restrictions, delaying the state's staged relaxation and tightening significantly in hotspot areas.
It pours cold water on suggestions made by Australia's own government. On Friday, Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham maintained the bubble could still be established as soon as September if Victoria could get cases under control soon.
"That's a realistic time frame, however, it clearly is subject to uncertainties like the situation in Victoria and ultimately it requires the agreement of the New Zealand government as well," Birmingham told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"I’m confident that things will be ready on our end by then. It does, obviously, from their end, depend on seeing us succeed in getting Victoria back under control and delivering them complete confidence in all of our systems."
With Victoria introducing the first 'hard lockdown', shutting down nine public housing buildings for at least five days, New Zealand's confidence is hardly guaranteed.
As 182 new cases were confirmed in Victoria over the weekend, the Andrews government has moved to tighten restrictions, delaying the state's reopening in hotspot areas.
While optimistic that Australia will be able to contain outbreaks, Deloitte economists suspect would-be trans-Tasman travellers may need to wait longer than Birmingham suggests.
"International borders [will] re-open gradually, starting with New Zealand in late 2020, and broadening to cover essentially the world by end-2021," Chris Richardson wrote in Deloitte's business outlook on Monday.
Declining to define just how late, it throws some cold water on a September reopening, with both Australia and New Zealand needing to balance their respective health and economic prospects.
While there are no active cases currently in New Zealand after a tight lockdown, its "success on the virus at home makes it less attractive to open up to elsewhere," Richardson said.
Nor will it be encouraged by the fact that Australia remains effectively closed to itself. The likes of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania have proven reluctant to open up domestically, and remain especially wary of Victoria.
The latest hard internal border seems to be the last nail in the coffin of the plan to have the two countries entirely open to each other by September.