Emotions were running high on Monday as enthusiastic passengers departed for the first flights between Australia and New Zealand in a COVID-19 ‘travel bubble’ without quarantine, allowing families long separated by the pandemic to meet.
“(I’m going to) scream, scream, cry, hug, kiss, (feel) happy – all of those emotions at once,” Denise O’Donoghue, 63, told AFP news agency at the airport. from Sydney as she got ready to board her flight.
The arrangement means passengers can complete the three-hour flight across the Tasman Sea without having to complete a mandatory COVID-19 quarantine upon arrival.
Television footage showed emotional scenes at airports with families reuniting and dozens of passengers crowding the international departure terminals at Australian airports.
“This is the first time in 400 days that people can travel without quarantine and we are adding 16 return flights a day to New Zealand, and they are fully booked,” Qantas Managing Director Alan Joyce said on Monday. , at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Qantas will increase flights between countries to around 200 per week, while Air New Zealand said it quadrupled its flights to 30 on Monday, with its planes serving New Zealand at 97% capacity.
“It’s really exciting to start traveling without quarantine with Australia. Whether it’s returning family, friends or vacationers, New Zealand says: ‘Welcome and have fun’, ”said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Hope for normality
Australia was New Zealand’s largest source of international tourists before the pandemic, accounting for around 1.5 million arrivals or 40% of total visitors in 2019.
The opening of the border received saturated media coverage in both countries, with live television reports from airports providing regular updates on flight progress.
On a grassy embankment at the foot of the Wellington Airport runway, the words “WELCOME WHANAU” (family) were written in giant letters.
Lorraine Wratt, a New Zealander stranded by the pandemic while visiting family in Australia, told AFP it was “wonderful” to be able to travel again.
“We are very excited to be coming home, but our family (in Australia) will be dearly missed,” she said.
Over half a million New Zealand-born people live in Australia, or just over 2 percent of Australia’s population of nearly 26 million.
Australia and New Zealand largely closed their borders to non-citizens and permanent residents over a year ago, helping to keep their COVID-19 numbers relatively low compared to several other developed countries .
Other international arrivals in both countries must go through a two-week hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Australia has recorded just over 29,500 cases of the virus and 910 deaths since the start of the pandemic, while New Zealand has recorded around 2,200 confirmed cases and 26 deaths.
Ardern and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison have warned travelers to prepare for short-term travel arrangements disruption in the event of the COVID-19 outbreak, and said the risks of travel without quarantine would be subject to “review constant”.
Nonetheless, O’Donoghue said the opening of the travel bubble made him feel the world was returning to some sort of normalcy.
“I will come back, they will come, we will be back to normal,” she said.
“What will be normal from now on, I don’t know, but I’m really, really excited today.”