New Zealand on Monday agreed to allow quarantine-free travel with Australia in the first quarter of 2021, nearly a year after it locked down its borders to protect its population from the global coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the cabinet had agreed in principle for the trans-Tasman, quarantine free travel bubble pending confirmation from the Australian cabinet, and no significant changes in circumstances of either countries.
"It is our intention to name a date ... in the New Year once remaining details are locked down," Ardern said at a news conference in the capital city Wellington.
New Zealand's has virtually eliminated Covid-19 within its borders by enforcing a tough lockdown and keeping its borders shut to all foreigners for most part of the year.
Ardern said more work was needed to ensure safe travels and New Zealand would move cautiously to finalise arrangements like managing airline crew, segregating travellers and others.
"Of course we want to progress on these issues including quarantine-free travel but we haven't taken risks before as that means New Zealanders won't be able to keep their freedom and I certainly don't want to take those risks right now," Ardern said.
A trans-Tasman travel bubble has been under discussions for months and many Australian regions have allowed New Zealanders to travel without quarantine requirements since October, but New Zealand had not reciprocated this move.
Australia also closed its international borders early in the pandemic and now, apart from New Zealanders, only allows returning Australian citizens to fly into the country.
Last week, New Zealand and the Cook Islands agreed to open a quarantine-free travel bubble by March next year, which was its first reciprocal travel bubble.
Reflecting on 2020 in her final post-cabinet press conference for the year, Ardern said it was a "a year no one would have imagined".
She said New Zealanders desperately want a break, adding that recent progress made on a Covid-19 vaccine was nothing less than remarkable. She said for 2021 everyone is trying to be as optimistic as possible.
When asked to describe 2020 in two words, she gave one: "horrendous".