The trans-Tasman travel bubble will not be derailed despite New Zealand suffering a COVID-19 case just days after it was announced, the federal Health Minister says.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed this week a long-awaited travel bubble would begin on April 19, allowing Australians to travel freely across the Tasman.
But a new COVID-19 case in New Zealand on Thursday raised questions about whether the plan would go ahead.
Health Minister Greg Hunt played down those fears on Thursday, describing New Zealand as a “global exemplar” in containing outbreaks and confirming the advice remained unchanged.
“New Zealand has an outstanding record … We have confidence as a government in the New Zealand government’s approach,” he said.
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“But we have full independence and authority, which we provided to the chief medical officer, to provide frank and fearless recommendations. So where we’ve had to take steps, we have.”
NZ authorities confirmed one case of community transmission on Thursday, a 24-year-old man who worked as a security guard at a hotel quarantine facility in Auckland.
The man was not vaccinated, but a close contact has tested negative to the virus.
Mr Hunt said Australia and New Zealand boasted two of the strongest hotel quarantine systems in the world, but no measures could completely eradicate the threat of COVID-19.
“The first ring of containment … is the quarantine program,” he said.
“(But) even the best in the world is not an immunity bubble. There will be additional leakage from that, whether it’s a breath, a touch, whether it’s a surface.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said earlier he did not have any advice on the case and did not comment on whether the travel bubble plan would be derailed.
Ms Ardern warned on Wednesday the agreement would not necessarily guarantee quarantine-free travel for Australians.
“We will always make the effort for people to be able to return home, but there may be a small set of circumstances where we might have to use quarantine,” she said.
“We do not anticipate that being a common response.”
Australia temporarily suspended arrivals from New Zealand in January after a woman tested positive to the highly infectious South African strain after leaving quarantine.
Ms Ardern told Mr Morrison she was “disappointed” by the decision at the time and warned the chances of establishing a two-way bubble were diminished by snap lockdowns.
“If we are to enter into a trans-Tasman bubble we will need to give people confidence that we won’t see closures at the border that happen with very short notice over incidents we believe can be well managed domestically,” she said.
Tourism Minister Dan Tehan has suggested establishing a two-way travel bubble with Singapore would be a “good next step”.