Jacinda Ardern pauses flights for eight weeks as her health chief says the spread in NSW was ‘clearly not under control’
New Zealand is shutting down the quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia for two months, as the country grapples with a number of serious outbreaks of Covid-19.
The country had already paused travel with the states of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The new pause applies to all of Australia for the next eight weeks.
At a press briefing on Friday, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said because of the Delta variant there was “greater risk now … than when we opened the travel bubble”.
“Covid has changed and so must we.”
Ardern said that she wanted to “acknowledge the impact it is having very directly on people’s lives. Covid-19 is devastating”.
Ardern said the government “remains committed” to the travel bubble and hoped it would reopen at some stage.
The New Zealand government held an urgent cabinet meeting on Thursday to discuss the decision.
On Friday, New South Wales reported a record-breaking 136 new infections and on Thursday premier Gladys Berejikilian warned that Covid case numbers will continue to rise in Sydney.
Victoria recorded 14 new locally acquired cases in the 24 hours to Friday, raising hopes restrictions could be eased next week.
Australia’s national cabinet was expected to meet on Friday and to endorse the terms of reference for an updated report into the quarantining of returned overseas travellers.
South Australia, which is also in lockdown, recorded two new cases on Thursday.
The lockdown restrictions in place in all three states mean that more than half of Australia’s population of 25 million people were in lockdown on Friday.
A release from the Ardern’s office said: “For the next seven days there will be managed return flights for New Zealanders from all states and territories that will require proof of a negative pre-departure test.
“Additionally, those who have been in NSW will still have to go into MIQ for 14 days. And those who have been in Victoria must self-isolate upon return and have a negative day 3 test.”
New Zealand has not had a community-acquired case of Covid-19 since February. As of this week, 15% of New Zealand’s 16+ population was fully vaccinated, and 22% had had a first dose.
Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s director-general of health, said the outbreak in NSW was “clearly not under control”. He said the pause in travel would allow time for Australia to get its outbreaks under control, and for New Zealand to continue strengthening its own response.
“I do want to emphasise the significance of this [Delta] variant, which is showing itself to be much more transmissible than earlier variants of concern. The experience in New South Wales makes it clear that even jurisdictions with very strong public health capability and capacity for testing and contract tracing have been unable to get ahead of this variant.”
Ardern said, “My strong message to every New Zealander who is in Australia right now, who has no intention of staying there long-term is: come home.”
She said she had told Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison on Friday that New Zealand did want the bubble to resume. “We remain committed to it,” she told Morrison.