Work starts on Australia-NZ travel bubble
Seven months on from endorsing the idea, Australia and New Zealand are taking steps to introduce a trans-Tasman safe travel zone.
The zone is intended to be in place by March next year after New Zealand's cabinet signed off on it on Monday.
Work is now under way on health, transport and other protocols to ensure the protection of travellers and prevent the spread of coronavirus.
An exact date for the zone opening won't be available until early in the new year.
Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison committed to the idea at a meeting in May, saying it would assist the trade and economic recoveries of both countries as well as enhance sporting contacts and reunite family and friends.
It's also intended that once the bubble is in place and has been thoroughly tested there would be opportunities to expand it to Pacific island nations.
Ms Ardern said the timeline was conditional on Australian government support and case numbers remaining low.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia was ready to do its bit as soon as New Zealand was ready.
"It's good for the economy, good for our airlines and it's good for both countries," he said.
"It is a first step on a return to international normality."
The minister has received medical advice that New Zealanders won't require COVID-19 vaccination to travel because the country does not have community transmission.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry tourism chair John Hart said business groups from both countries had proposed the bubble start with a Canberra-Wellington route as a "proof of concept" of systems and processes.
After a number of weeks other cities could be added.
In a typical year, 1.5 million Australians travel to New Zealand.
Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten said while it was "great" to see the trans-Tasman bubble progressing it was important not to forget the thousands of Australians still stranded overseas.
"They won't be home for Christmas," he tweeted.
Australian Associated Press