The Government has shut the transtasman travel bubble for at least the next eight weeks.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged the 'devastating' impact the Australian Covid outbreak was having on people's lives. She willed the country a speedy recovery, but warned the movement of people could complicate the recovery, she said.
Ardern she would not risk the hard work put in by the team of 5 million by keeping the bubble open when the risk was high from the Delta variant.
The Delta variant had materially changes the risk profile for the transtasman bubble, she said.
In the view of our health officials there is greater risk now than when they opened the travel bubble with Australia.
Advice for Kiwis currently in Australia can be found at the bottom of the article.
"Covid has changed, so we must," Ardern said.
Quarantine-free travel has been suspeneded from 11.59pm tonight and the bubble will be closed for at least the next eight weeks.
"There are now multiple outbreaks, and in differing stages of containment, that have forced three states into lockdown. The health risk to New Zealanders from these cases is increasing," Ardern said.
There will be flights home from all Australian territories for the next 7 days.
Ardern's message to Kiwis in Australia was: "Come home - we're giving you seven days".
If demand had not been met, more flights will be extended.
In NSW, New Zealanders can only fly from Sydney and will have to be in MIQ for 14 days.
In Victoria, travelers must have a negative pre-departure test and must isolated until a negative day 3 test.
Ardern advised Kiwis not to travel to Australia in the next eight weeks.
Extra staff were being deployed to New Zealand's ports to check the pre-departure tests, Ardern said.
Ardern said many people would be disappointed to be separated from friends and family again.
Ardern said the Government did want the travel bubble to resume, but the outbreak needed to be contained before that could happen.
Ardern said the risk was growing so she was comfortable with the delay in informing the country of the bubble closing.
"When we have an immediate concern we pause straight away. Here we see the risk growing," she said.
"We don't trust Covid," she said when asked if she did not trust Australia's handling of it.
"There is no judgement here.
"We want Australia to succeed because it allows us to keep those arrangements alive."
Ardern said there would be some people not eligible to return during the seven days but the Government would work with them to get them home after that period.
She said if the Wallabies could arrive in the country in the next seven-days and make an economic case for it, they would not have to go into MIQ for two weeks.
Over 100 people had tried to get into New Zealand from parts of Australia where they should not have been during the bubble pause, Ardern said.
Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the overall risk from Australia was low but increasing.
He said the NSW outbreak was clearly not contained and the number of cases who were in the community while infectious was a concern.
The suspension would allow Australian officials to manage the outbreak, he said.
Bloomfield emphasised the transmissability of the Delta variant was hugely concerning and even contact tracing had been unable to get ahead of it, he said.
Bloomfield said an incursion of the Delta variant would require a swift and forceful response if we did have a case of the Delta variant and health officials were preparing for it.
He thought it would take eight weeks for NSW to get the outbreak down to acceptable levels and closing the bubble for eight weeks also gives people certainty about what was happening, he said.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said people should contact the airlines for questions about their flights.
He said Air New Zealand would be looking to put bigger planes on the existing routes and potentially adding extra flights.
He said they would be monitoring it every day to identify any pinch points.
There were extra staff in Australia checking pre-departure tests before the boarded flights home to New Zealand, Hipkins said.
There are 19 new cases - all mariners in isolation - of Covid-19 in MIQ and none in the community.
Last night whole genome sequencing of the crew on the Mattina confirmed they have the Delta variant.
In total there are now 15 positive Covid cases on that ship. All crew who test positive will remain quarantined on-board. The crew members, including the captain, have tested negative and were safely transported to one-shore facilities
Today's numbers also include the 16 previously reported cases on the Playa Zahara because they have been deemed current cases.
On the Viking Bay, four crew members remain in quarantine on-board the boat in Welington while the other 16 are in an onshore quarantine facility.
New South Wales has today recorded 136 new Covid community cases - its highest daily total since the latest outbreak began.
Air NZ has announced five flights from NSW between July 28 and August 7 for Kiwis to return home. They will need to go into MIQ for 14 days.
Once travellers book a flight, their MIQ spot is automatically confirmed.
Seat availability will depend on MIQ spaces
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Nick Wilson said he previously would have considered an eight-week travel bubble pause an overreaction, but he now felt it was appropriate in light of rising case numbers across the ditch.
"Given what has happened with things getting worse for New South Wales and spread across the borders, the interstate border system is not as robust as it was."
He also said holes in New Zealand's border - such as NZ Customs' random checking of pre-departure Covid tests for incoming travellers - indicated this was the right decision.
"All those things added in, it's probably the best thing to do from a health perspective."
Wilson believed the two-month travel pause provided a rare opportunity for the Government to reassess its travel bubble conditions, with the more infectious Delta variant in mind.
"This is a perfect time to get everything up to 100 per cent quality in terms of all the systems and to even make further improvements on the routine MIQ system, given that we keep seeing how infectious this new variant is."
With Australian states struggling to contain an outbreak, Wilson said options such as a more comprehensive alert level system and targeted vaccination should be considered. On the latter, Wilson described how the risk of virus spread could be significantly reduce if unvaccinated essential workers were quickly given the jab in the event of an outbreak.
Wilson said New Zealand was not "well organised or prepared as we should be" for this outbreak in Australia, as evidenced by only half of incoming travellers being checked if they had proof of a mandatory pre-departure Covid test. He believed all travellers should have been checked from the beginning.
Kiwis glad to be leaving Melbourne
A Whanganui man said he was "pretty perked up" to hear his partner and their three grandchildren could return home from Melbourne on a flight over the next seven days.
Warren Burgess said they had been in Melbourne since July 12 for the grandchildren to see their father and could probably handle it a bit longer in Australia, although the kids are due to return to school next week.
"We want to get them back to their mother. She is worried and the situation is not ideal, but the way it is going to roll, that will work for us," Burgess said.
"It we are able to fly out in the next week, financially we will be fine and that will work for us. If it had been for the eight weeks things would have been a bit tough," said Burgess, whose family members are staying in a three-bedroom house costing more than $1000 a week.
"The Government has obviously looked at it with a sympathetic view for people who are trappped here and that's encouraging."
Advice for Kiwis in Australia
Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia, ACT and Norfolk Island
, can come home on a green flight subject to the below public health criteria:
- A negative pre-departure test, taken within 72-hours of their intended travel to New Zealand.
- Have not been in a location of interest in the past 14 days.
- Are not symptomatic at the time of travel.
- Are not a contact of a COVID-19 case.
Eligible people from Victoria or travellers from other states/territories who have been in Victoria can return provided they also:
- Adhere to lockdown measures in Victoria
- Self-isolate upon return to New Zealand and get a test at day 3
- Travel to the airport wearing facemasks and by safe travel, ie, not public transport.
Eligible people from New South Wales will continue to return on existing managed return flights. Returnees on these flights will be required to enter a managed isolation facility for at least 14 days on arrival in New Zealand.
Travel on all such flights will be limited to:
New Zealand citizens and holders of residence class visas;
Holders of temporary visas and Australian citizens, who last departed New Zealand after 5 April 2021;
Holders of current permanent residence visas (including a resident return visa) issued by the Government of Australia who last departed New Zealand after 5 April 2021; and
Relevant family members of people listed in the above categories. (Relevant family member means: a spouse, civil union partner, or de facto partner, a dependent child; or a parent of a dependent child. Parent, in relation to a dependent child, means a person on whom the child is dependant)