New Zealand on Friday paused its newly opened travel bubble with Australia, the government in Wellington said, after a COVID-19 outbreak in its larger neighbour.
“As set out in our Trans-Tasman bubble protocols, travel between New Zealand and Western Australia has been paused, pending further advice from the state government,” a statement on the New Zealand government website said.
The decision came after Western Australia announced that the regions of Perth and Peel were entering a three-day lockdown, starting midnight Friday to Saturday, due to a traveler testing positive for the coronavirus.
The decision to lock down followed “a positive Covid-19 case from hotel quarantine who was active in the community,” a statement on the Western Australia government website said.
Local media reported that a man in his 50s flew into Melbourne from Perth on Wednesday and tested positive for the coronavirus earlier Friday.
He underwent the legally required quarantine in a Perth hotel and, once released, went to restaurants, a university, a public pool, a doctor’s office and a friend’s house before leaving the area.
“He spent up to five days in Perth, and we now need to assume he was infectious,” Western Australia premier Mark McGowan told a press conference.
Local media reported that the friend the man visited has since tested positive.
New Zealand and Australia had opened their quarantine-free travel bubble on April 18, almost 400 days after they closed their borders due to the pandemic.
The bubble, which followed months of negotiations between the largely coronavirus-free neighbours, was hailed as a major milestone in restarting a global travel industry that has been crippled by the Covid-19 pandemic.
It meant that passengers from Australia and New Zealand — both of which have largely contained Covid-19 — could fly across the Tasman Sea without undergoing mandatory quarantine on arrival.
The leaders of both nations had hailed the bubble, which also would have provided a much-needed boost to New Zealand’s beleaguered tourism industry, and urged residents to take advantage of it.
Before Covid-19 brought New Zealand’s tourism industry to its knees, it was the country’s biggest export industry, with Australians accounting for about 40 percent of the international visitors.
After the travel bubble was announced, a spokesman for Australian flag carrier Qantas said tickets to New Zealand were “selling like hot cakes” with a strong “load” to Queenstown, which is billed as the country’s “Adventure capital”.
New Zealand authorities revealed on April 20 that an Auckland airport worker had tested positive for Covid-19, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at the time it would not affect the bubble, which was then barely 24 hours old.
Ardern said the cleaner worked on planes arriving from “red zone” countries deemed high risk, not Australia.
She said both Australia and New Zealand expected to handle border cases, and had systems in place to do that without closing the long-awaited travel bubble.