AUCKLAND, New Zealand: Tearful reunions were witnessed at the Auckland airport on Monday as residents from Australia were able to travel freely to New Zealand for the first time in more than a year.
The long-awaited Australia-New Zealand travel bubble does not require the visitors to quarantine on arrival.
Thousands of passengers were booked to fly between the two nations on Monday.
Both countries have contained Covid outbreaks and kept infection rates low, largely due to tight restrictions.
Excited passengers crowded airports in Australia for flights to various parts of New Zealand on Monday, with some rising before dawn to get ready to board.
“I didn’t realise how emotional I was going to be today,” passenger Dawn Tratt told media at Sydney airport.
While many buzzed with the anticipation of seeing loved ones, for others it was a more sombre occasion.
“My older brother passed away last week on Thursday, we couldn’t get there last week, but it’s allowed us to go back home today without quarantine so it’s good, very good to go and lay him to rest,” said John Palalagi in Sydney.
Nirali Johal said she was going to see her partner for the first time in almost two years.
“I couldn’t sleep last night, it has been very exciting,” she said. “We are just… happy that it has happened and we’re able to live a normal life again.”
She said she was looking forward to “going to a café, chilling and do what people do on a normal day face-to-face.” She added: “Zoom relations aren’t great. I’m over it.”
Australia and New Zealand shut their borders in March last year and brought in compulsory quarantine for returning nationals.
Since October, New Zealand travellers have been allowed to enter most Australian states without quarantine, though this had not been reciprocated amid concerns about sporadic Covid outbreaks.
To fly under the bubble’s rules, passengers must have spent 14 days before departure in either Australia or New Zealand. They must not be waiting the results of a Covid test, nor have any Covid symptoms, amongst other rules.
Related story: Australia, New Zealand to allow quarantine-free travel
The border opening received saturation coverage from media in both countries, with live television reporting from airports providing regular updates on the progress of flights.
On a grass embankment at the foot of Wellington Airport’s runway, the words “WELCOME WHANAU” (family) were spelt out in giant letters.
Lorraine Wratt, a New Zealander stranded by the pandemic while visiting family in Australia, told news agencies it was “wonderful” to be able to travel again.
Ardern and her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison 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 would be under “constant review”.
Nevertheless, O’Donoghue said the travel bubble’s opening made her feel the world was returning to some sort of normality.
“I’ll be going back, they’ll be coming over, we’ll just be back to normal,” she said.
“What normal’s going to be from now on I don’t know, but I’m just really, really excited today.”