Travel from New Zealand's South Island to reopen as quarantine-free flights with Singapore discussed

Asia's Tech News Daily

Australians who have been stuck on New Zealand’s South Island will be able to return home without having to undergo hotel quarantine from early next week as the national vaccination rate nears 70 per cent fully immunised.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said both NSW and Victoria had agreed to allow travellers from the South Island to enter without quarantining from midnight on Tuesday.

“We hope to allow anyone who’s been in the South Island of New Zealand, whether they’re Australians, New Zealanders or other nationalities as long as they’ve been there for 14 days, to come in quarantine free,” he said on Sunday morning.

“I understand there are some Australians that have been stuck in the South Island of New Zealand for some time and we’d welcome them home.”

Professor Kelly said the decision was made on Saturday to allow quarantine-free arrivals in light of the fact there have been no cases on the South Island since last year, despite the latest outbreak on the North Island.

Quarantine-free travel to New Zealand from Australia remains suspended, as Victoria and NSW continues to record hundreds of cases a day. So-called “green lane” travel to other countries – with no quarantine required at either end of the journey – is still being worked out.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said there has been a “rapid development” in discussions with Singapore about reopening travel between the two countries.

“I’ve met with Singapore [Health] Minister Ong Ye Kung only on Friday, and we were discussing precisely this: an expedited green-lane travel proposal for fully vaccinated travellers from Singapore. That’s under, I call it, rapid development,” he said on Sunday.

Mr Hunt said international travel would resume in three phases: the first, already announced by NSW, allowing fully vaccinated Australians to return, and allowing citizens to leave. The second is for priority visa holders, including students and priority workers. Mr Hunt said the second phase was still being worked on with states and territories but was “ultimately a Commonwealth decision”.

The third phase would be allowing fully vaccinated international travellers including tourists into Australia. Mr Hunt did not tie any of these phases to vaccination rates. However, under the national reopening plan capped entry numbers for priority visa holders would be introduced once the country enters phase B of the plan after 70 per cent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.

“We’ll obviously review the epidemiology both in Australia and globally … to look at when it is safe and appropriate for unvaccinated travellers to be able to enter Australia,” Mr Hunt said.

So far, nearly 85 per cent of Australians aged 16 and over have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 67.8 per cent are fully vaccinated. More than 95 per cent of people aged 60 and over have had one dose, and more than 80 per cent of that cohort have had second shots.

Australia has also signed deals for two new COVID-19 treatments, one of which will start arriving in the country this month.

The Commonwealth has purchased 15,000 doses of the coronavirus antibody-based therapy ronapreve from Roche Products. Professor Kelly said the drug will be used to prevent severe infection, particularly among unvaccinated people who contract the virus. The first supplies are expected to be available by the end of October, pending medical regulator approval.

The Commonwealth has also secured an agreement for 500,000 courses of Pfizer’s antiviral drug, which is still undergoing clinical trials but is expected to help reduce the severity of illness in people who have contracted COVID-19.

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