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Borders to remain closed for months, government weighs NZ travel

A Qantas spokesman said opening the border to New Zealand would be “a welcome step in the recovery of the tourism industry”, which has collapsed since international borders were closed in March.

“Kiwis are the second biggest source of tourists and business travellers into Australia,” the spokesman said.

New Zealand is second only to China as a source of tourists. In 2018, 1.8 million Kiwis travelled to Australia and spent $2.6 billion.

While the economic downturn may impact on travel plans, industry experts believe that with other international destinations off limits, significant numbers of Australians and New Zealanders would choose to travel between the countries if allowed to do so.

Mr Morrison, who will update Australians on the latest transmission data on Friday in a briefing expected to cast light on the first stage of easing social restrictions, said Australia was “on the road back to a COVID-safe economy”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern have spoken about the prospect of opening up international travel between the two countries.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern have spoken about the prospect of opening up international travel between the two countries.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

The prime minister, who has given a timeframe of four weeks to mid-May during which it will monitor transmission rates before any restrictions are lifted, said authorities were making “good progress on things like testing kits, personal protective equipment” and other supplies.

Professor Murphy said while it was “very hard to put a timeline on anything at the moment”, opening borders would likely be the last stage of any easing of restrictions.

“I wouldn’t be envisaging any material changes to border measures in that three to four months,” he said.

“The international situation at the moment is such that any relaxation of border measures would be very risky and we just recommended to the national cabinet only a few days ago that we continue the very restrictive bans.”

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry executive chair John Hart said opening the trans-Tasman border would be “a really good way of testing” the restart of international travel, but that state borders would need to be opened first.

Australian Tourism Industry Council executive director Simon Westaway said the proposal was “a cracking good idea” that could bring much-needed tourism dollars to Australia, so long as social restrictions were lifted so that visitors could enjoy the sights.

Mr Westaway said he did not expect Australia’s borders to reopen to all international travellers anytime this year, but that the New Zealand “bubble” could be activated by the third or final quarter of the 2020 calendar year.

Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond said New Zealand was “an obvious first choice” for reopening Australia’s border “given their success in containing COVID 19, our strong ties and the fact that they are our second biggest tourism market”.

Professor Raina MacIntyre, head of the biosecurity program at the UNSW’s Kirby Institute, said it would be possible for Australia and New Zealand to “work together as a block” in tackling COVID-19, “ideally if we each had exactly the same disease control approaches”.

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“If we have to live with this virus for the next few years the idea of countries working together as an economic block with others that have a similar disease incidence may be one way forward,” she said.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the opening up of travel between Australia and New Zealand would make it easier for business travel, assuming that travellers did not have to quarantine upon arrival.

A Business Council of Australia spokesperson said a “cautious easing of restrictions” would be welcome “when it is safe to do so”.

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