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New Zealand to open quarantine-free "travel bubble" with Australia within 2 weeks

New Zealand will open a quarantine-free, "travel bubble" with Australia from 11:59pm on April 18, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: New Zealand tourism industry official Chris Roberts and Michael Barnett, an NZ Chamber of Commerce director, told Axios the plan could serve as a model that other countries can learn from.

  • The announcement reflects the success that both countries have had in managing the virus, per scientist Shaun Hendy, who heads a research center advising the NZ government.

The big picture: Australia and NZ shut their borders in March 2020, as COVID-19 spread across the world.

  • Australia announced a "safe travel zone" for New Zealanders to travel to parts of the country without quarantining last October. It was later expanded to the rest of the country. But New Zealanders had to check into managed quarantine hotels upon their return.
  • This two-way travel bubble means Australians and returning Kiwis won't have to stay in these hotels and are free to travel around the country without restrictions beyond wearing masks on public transport.

For the record: New Zealand last detected a coronavirus infection in the community on Feb. 28.

  • There are currently no reported cases in Australia. But New South Wales and Queensland have both reported locally acquired cases in the past week linked to a bachelorette party at a bar in NSW, near the states' border.

Between the lines: Te Pūnaha Matatini director Hendy said opening the travel corridor would be low-risk to New Zealand's COVID-free status, as Australia is also following a similar elimination strategy and it has "excellent" surveillance systems in place.

  • "Should an outbreak occur in one of the Australian States we would learn about it quickly and our government would have time to take steps to manage travel from any affected region," Hendy said.

Of note: Hendy notes that both countries have had failures at managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

  • "When this happens, travel restrictions will need to be brought back in," Hendy said.
  • Travelers should be prepared for an extended stay or quarantine on return if this happens, he added.

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

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