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What is a 'travel bubble' and could one work between Australia and New Zealand?

The world's first just opened its borders in the EU

Written by
Divya Venkataraman

Australians are famously well-travelled. Before 'all this', you'd find one in the bottom bunk of every Eastern European hostel and at the head of every South American hiking group. So it's no surprise that we Australians are itching to get back out there and explore the big wide world. However, given the current crisis, that may be a distant dream. International travel, as we once knew it, might not resume as normal until 2023, but could a 'travel bubble' be the intermediate answer to our globe-trotting prayers? 

Promising developments elsewhere in the world suggest it could be a potential option. On Friday, May 15, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania opened their borders to each other, marking the first exclusive travel agreement between countries during the pandemic. All the countries involved recorded significantly fewer cases than their neighbours in the European Union – a combined total of just 4,231 – which has allowed them to reopen borders cautiously. While citizens of these states have free movement throughout the travel bubble, any visitors arriving from outside these countries will still have to abide by a two week mandatory quarantine period. 

Germany's Angela Merkel flagged that the EU’s Schengen zone countries could hopefully begin lifting border restrictions amongst themselves on June 15. In the lead up to the tourist high season of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, many countries in Europe are anxious to welcome visitors. 

In the Asia-Pacific, Australia and New Zealand have already floated the idea of our own trans-Tasman travel bubble. Both countries have experienced comparatively low caseloads, and the trans-Tasman travel bubble could allow residents of both countries the chance to explore each other's natural spoils while giving tourism and hospitality industries a fighting chance of recovery in a post-pandemic economy. In practice, a travel bubble would allow visitors from both countries to cross borders without submitting to the current mandatory 14-day quarantine period, which remains in place in both Australia and New Zealand. A range of security measures, like temperature checks at airports and strict hygiene protocols would also be implemented during air travel and within airports. 

However, it's still unclear when such a travel bubble would be established. The start of winter seems to be the earliest possible timeframe – luckily, just in time for some sweet powder on the South Island ski slopes. On Friday, May 15, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern stated that trans-Tasman travel would likely still be more than "weeks" away. Our own PM, Scott Morrison, included travel to New Zealand in the final stage of the three-stage process of gradually lifting restrictions – which is expected to be implemented in July.

Fortunately for us, Australians have a whole backyard of domestic destinations to visit until then – like these natural wonders just a day trip from Sydney.

We bet you haven't seen our city from this angle. Check out the best places to go kayaking in Sydney

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