New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Tuesday that her country will open a travel bubble with Australia in less than two weeks.
Quarantine-free travel between the neighboring nations, separated by the Tasman Sea, will commence at 11:59 p.m. New Zealand time on April 18.
"This is an important step forward in our COVID response and represents an arrangement I do not believe we have seen in any other part of the world," Ardern said at a press conference Tuesday, "that is safely opening up international travel to another country while continuing to purse a strategy of elimination and a commitment to keeping the virus out."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed Ardern's announcement.
"This announcement will enable quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand on both sides of the Tasman helping to reunite families and friends and giving tourism operators a significant boost," Morrison said in a statement Tuesday. "This latest major step in the resumption of international travel has only been possible due to the internationally recognised, world-leading responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by Australia and New Zealand."
Both countries have been successful in stamping out the spread of COVID-19. New Zealand, a nation of five million people, has had a total of 2,524 confirmed and probable cases, including 26 deaths. There are currently 74 actives cases, all of which are in managed isolation and quarantine, according to New Zealand's Ministry of Health. Australia, a country of 25 million people, has had a total of 29,365 confirmed cases, including 909 deaths. There are currently 149 active cases, according to Australia's Department of Health.
While Australia had previously allowed travelers from New Zealand to arrive without having to self-isolate, New Zealand had enforced a two-week quarantine period for travelers from Australia amid concerns about small outbreaks there. Both have had strict quarantine requirements for travelers from nations where COVID-19 is rife.
Ardern said the risk of transmission from Australia to New Zealand is now deemed low and that a trans-Tasman travel bubble would be safe. However, the prime minister warned that quarantine-free travel between the two countries "will not be what it was pre-COVID."
"Those undertaking travel on either side of the ditch will do so under the guidance of flyer beware," she said. "People will need to plan for the possibility of travel being disrupted if there is an outbreak."