(Reuters) – Hundreds of passengers thronged Australian airports on Monday as an open border system began with New Zealand, a pandemic milestone that allows Australian residents to fly there for the first time in over a year without having to quarantine for two weeks.
Though most Australian states have allowed quarantine-free visits from New Zealand residents since late last year, New Zealand had enforced isolation for arrivals from its neighbour, citing concern about sporadic virus outbreaks there.
Television footage showed hundreds of passengers crowding the international departure terminals at Australian airports.
“It is the first time in 400 days that people can travel quarantine-free and we are adding 16 return flights a day to New Zealand, and they are full,” Qantas (QAN.AX) Chief Executive Alan Joyce told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Monday.
The open border will help drive the economic recovery for both countries and reunite thousands with families and friends, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a joint statement.
“It is truly exciting to start quarantine-free travel with Australia. Be it returning family, friends or holiday-makers, New Zealand says welcome and enjoy yourself,” Ardern said.
Both Australia and New Zealand had largely closed their borders to non-citizens and permanent residents more than a year ago, helping to keep their COVID-19 numbers relatively low compared with several other developed countries.
Morrison and Ardern warned travellers to prepare for disruptions to travel arrangements at short notice in the event of COVID-19 outbreaks, and said the risks of quarantine-free travel will be under “constant review”.
Both leaders also flagged the possibility of extending quarantine-free travel to other countries in the Pacific region when “it is safe to do so.”