Video report by ITV News Reporter Sally Biddulph
A long-anticipated travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand has been opened, setting off a wave of emotional reunions.
The start of quarantine-free travel was a relief for families who have been separated by the coronavirus pandemic as well as to struggling tourist operators.
It marked the first, tentative steps toward what both countries hope will become a gradual reopening to the rest of the world.
The idea of a bubble between Australia and New Zealand had been talked about for months but faced setbacks because of several small virus outbreaks in both countries, which were eventually stamped out.
Families enjoy emotional reunions as travel is resumed between the countries
«As soon as (New Zealand Prime Minister) Jacinda (Ardern) said that the bubble has opened, I was online and I booked my flight straightaway,» one traveller said.
In the New Zealand capital, Wellington, Danny Mather was overcome to see his pregnant daughter Kristy and his infant grandson for the first time in 15 months after they flew in from Sydney for a visit on the first flight after the bubble opened.
When asked what was the first thing he said to her, he replied: “Not a thing. It’s just so good to see her and I’m just so happy to have her back.”
Kristy Mather said it was overwhelming to be reunited with her family and it was amazing the bubble had opened.
“I wished it had happened earlier, but it’s happened now,” she said. “I just wanted to get on that first flight because you never know, it may go south. Let’s hope it sticks around.”
To mark the occasion, Wellington International Airport painted an enormous welcome sign near its main runway and Air New Zealand ordered 24,000 bottles of sparkling wine, offering a complimentary glass to adult passengers.
The airline’s chief operating officer Carrie Hurihanganui said the carrier had previously been running just two or three flights a day between the two countries but that jumped to 30 flights on Monday carrying 5,200 passengers.
She said the day marked a turning point and people were excited, adding: “You can feel it at the airport and see it on people’s faces.”
The leaders of both countries welcomed the bubble, saying it was a world-leading arrangement because it aimed to both open borders and keep the virus from spreading.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “Today’s milestone is a win-win for Australians and New Zealanders, boosting our economies while keeping our people safe.”
His New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern said her country was welcoming new arrivals.
She added: “The bubble marks a significant step in both countries’ reconnection with the world and it’s one we should all take a moment to be very proud of.”
Travelers who lined up at Sydney and Melbourne airports early on Monday said they were excited or relieved to finally fly to New Zealand after more than a year.
Some were visiting family and friends, while others were attending funerals.
Both countries have managed to keep out the virus by putting up barriers to the outside world, including strict quarantine requirements for travellers returning from other countries where the virus is rampant.
Australia had previously allowed New Zealanders to arrive without going into quarantine but New Zealand had taken a more cautious approach, requiring travellers from Australia complete a quarantine.
The start of the bubble comes ahead of the New Zealand ski season and is welcome news for many tourist towns, including the ski resort of Queenstown.