The quarantine-free transit zone between New Zealand and Victoria has been extended for another seven days, with the Australian state going into lockdown to combat a developing Covid-19 epidemic in Melbourne.
The suspension of travel will be extended until next Friday.
Chris Hipkins, Minister of Covid-19 Response, and Ashley Bloomfield, Director-General of Health, have offered an update on the travel bubble issue.
This afternoon, the Victorian government announced the state would go into lockdown for a week to contain a growing Covid-19 outbreak in Melbourne.
Hipkins said the current situation was the biggest challenge to the trans-Tasman bubble so far.
He said anybody who had been in a location of interest in Melbourne could not travel to New Zealand for at least 14 days since visiting the location.
“We are considering whether further restrictions should be put in place. We will make decision on that in the next 24 hours or so.
Dr Bloomfield has implemented new rules under the Health Act regarding anyone who was in Melbourne from 20-25 May.
“Anyone who has travelled to New Zealand is required to isolate, be tested, and keep isolating until they receive a test result.
“We are applying a precautionary approach.”
Hipkins said authorities would be attempting to contact people who have travelled to New Zealand from Melbourne since 20 May.
“There is a lot of them so they shouldn’t all expect to be contacted immediately.
Contact tracing centres would be used to follow up with those 5000 people, likely starting tonight, Dr Bloomfield said.
Dr Bloomfield said they thought the risk was still quite low but the number of locations of interest that were high-risk had risen a lot.
“We think it’s prudent to ask anyone who has been in Melbourne to isolate and be tested.”
The Australian prime minister’s visit to New Zealand this weekend should still be able to go ahead, Hipkins said.
Meanwhile, the Highlanders trans-Tasman super rugby match against the Melbourne Rebles has had to be moved from Queenstown to Sydney due to the extension the travel bubble pause.
The Rebels had moved to Sydney on Wednesday in the hope of flying to New Zealand on Saturday. Instead, the Highlanders will now travel to Sydney on Saturday and play the Rebels at Leichardt Oval.
All Rebels players and staff will be tested for Covid-19 before Sunday’s match.
The Rebels are also continuing to check the locations of interest but at this stage no team members have been to any of the locations listed.
Hipkins was satisfied there was testing capacity for those people across the country.
New Zealand’s government put the quarantine-free travel for people arriving from the state on pause earlier this week as cases began to be detected in the community.
Hipkins said the pause on travel would be kept under review.
“If the pause for any reason were to continue, then we would look to other options, whether or not we would provide emergency travel for those who needed to get back immediately”.
The government had set aside some rooms in MIQ as a trans-Tasman contingency for isolating, Hipkins said.
People had been told if they travelled they may have to shelter in place, he said.
“Covid-19 does continue to dominate around the globe… we do have to expect things to continue to be disrupted from time-to-time.”
The number of active community cases in Melbourne continues to rise and was at 34 at 1pm (NZ time), according to Health Victoria.
In its daily Covid-19 update, the Ministry of Health said anyone who has come over from the state and been at a location of interest at the specified time must immediately self-isolate and call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice on when to get tested.
Thousands of people who recently arrived from the area were sent an email about the situation.
“Anyone in New Zealand who has been in the wider Melbourne area since 11 May who develops symptoms while in New Zealand should also ring Healthline and arrange to get tested.
“The number of locations of interest being announced by Health Victoria is also continuing to rise and there are now 150 exposure sites across Melbourne.
“Given the time frames, it is crucial that everyone who has been in the state of Victoria since 11 May keeps checking Victoria Health’s website detailing the locations of interest.”
Anyone who has been in the Whittlesea local government area since 11 May should also ring Healthline for advice, the ministry said.