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Photograph: Pexels/ Rajagopalan Ramachandran

There could be a trans-Tasman travel bubble between Australia and NZ by September

But the solution might only apply to certain Australian states

Divya Venkataraman

The idea of the elusive 'travel bubble' has been dangled in front of Australians for months. Since April, when New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and our very own Scott Morrison first brought up the idea that travellers from both nations would be able to cross international borders without quarantine requirements, would-be travellers have been waiting on the details of the scheme to be ironed out. 

On July 6, Ardern expressed a desire to pursue a quarantine-free travel arrangement, but with individual Australian states as opposed to the whole country. This change in approach comes off the back of the recent resurgence of the virus in Victoria. All of Australia's states and territories have now barred any Victorian residents that do not have special permission to travel. Even New South Wales, which remained open to Victoria at the peak of the initial crisis in mid-March, has now closed its border to the neighbouring state for the first time in 100 years. Ardern flagged that, on the other hand, states like Queensland were progressing well in the fight against the virus.

At this stage, she said, the onus fell on Australia to decide whether it would progress on a state-by-state basis. If a state-based solution was to be pursued, then border controls within the country would need to be upheld rigorously.

On Friday, July 3, Australian tourism minister gave the first hint of a date attached to the nation-wide travel bubble solution, saying that it could become a reality by September – depending on whether the outbreak in Victoria was contained. Ardern did not comment on whether this was achievable. 

A travel bubble – whether state-based or national – could allow residents of both Australia and New Zealand the chance to explore each other's natural spoils while giving tourism and hospitality industries a fighting chance of recovery in the post-lockdown economy. However, there's no guarantee that a state-based solution would include New South Wales, which, despite largely suppressing the issue of community transmission, still has the highest caseload in the country.

As international travel may not resume as normal until 2023, the 'travel bubble' may be the intermediate answer to our globe-trotting prayers.

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