New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has responded to Australia’s decision to immediately halt quarantine-free from New Zealand following the country’s first local virus case in months.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said yesterday the green zone travel bubble with New Zealand would be suspended immediately, for at least 72 hours, out of an “abundance of caution” over the highly transmissible South African strain.
The case is a 56-year-old returned traveller who tested positive to the South African strain after she left hotel quarantine and visited a variety of locations in Northland, north of Auckland. It is New Zealand’s first positive case outside hotel quarantine in two months.
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Ms Ardern said her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison had notified her about the decision.
“I was advised late this afternoon of Australia’s decision by the Prime Minister,” she said, according to the New Zealand Herald.
“I advised him that we have confidence in our systems and processes, but it is Australia’s decision as to how they manage their borders.”
Mr Hunt said the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee had made its recommendation amid concern of the South African variant.
Anyone who arrived from New Zealand on or since January 14 must also isolate and be tested.
“The possibility that that may lead to a transmission event, and out of an abundance of caution, the AHPPC has recommended to the Government … that there should be a suspension,” Mr Hunt told reporters on Monday.
“This will be done out of an abundance of caution whilst more is learnt about the event and the case.”
Mr Hunt said the Prime Minister had a “very productive and convivial conversation” with his New Zealand counterpart.
He also described New Zealand as a global success story and said Australia would not usually suspend travel as a result of one case.
“We have the absolute highest belief in the quality and the ability of New Zealand to contact trace,” Mr Hunt said.
“It’s just the combination of the transmissibility of the variant and the circumstances of the particular case … which led the AHPPC to give us categorical strong, clear, unanimous advice.”
Australia’s decision to temporarily close the border has attracted some outrage in New Zealand media, despite New Zealand holding out on making the travel bubble arrangement reciprocal.
“Here is a reality check for the Australian Government: There is no alert level change in New Zealand, or even regionally in Northland,” journalist Brook Sabin wrote in an opinion piece on Stuff.co.nz.
“The transmission likely happened inside the hotel; as yet there has been no evidence of any spread in the community. Most close contacts have already tested negative. And this single case doesn’t remotely meet Australia’s definition of a ‘hotspot’.
“Of course, Australia has every right to take this action, especially given the circumstance … My question is this: How can there be a genuine two-way trans-Tasman travel bubble if politicians are going to shut down travel on a single case.”
Australia allowed travellers from New Zealand to arrive quarantine-free in October and New Zealand aims to allow quarantine-free travel from Australia by April, however a date has not been set.
Some people on social media criticised Australia for “overreacting” to a single case while many others praised the Australian Government for acting swiftly in relation to the new New Zealand case.
– with Angie Raphael, NCA NewsWire