New Zealand hopes to open a travel bubble with Australia by April next year and is working to finalise the necessary anti-coronavirus border measures, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said.
Ms Ardern said New Zealand’s cabinet had agreed “in principle” to open a trans-Tasman travel bubble in the first quarter of 2021 provided there are no major virus outbreaks in either country.
“It is our intention to name a date for the commencement of quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel in the new year, once remaining details are locked down,” she told reporters.
New Zealand closed its borders in March and since then all international arrivals, including Australians, have been required to undergo two weeks of managed isolation.
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The country has been widely praised for its strict handling of the coronavirus, which has caused just 25 deaths in a population of five million.
Ms Ardern said she would not allow unnecessary risks to be taken to reopen travel with Australia, which before the pandemic was New Zealand’s largest source of overseas visitors.
She said a key consideration was how to prevent border facilities being swamped if there was a major virus outbreak in Australia that prompted thousands of visiting New Zealanders to rush home.
“It’s not a hypothetical – there have been several (Australian outbreaks),” she said.
“We’d need to make arrangements to have potentially thousands of New Zealanders brought back to New Zealand in numbers we would not necessarily be able to handle in managed isolation.”
Australia has allowed quarantine-free travel for New Zealand arrivals since October, but New Zealand has not reciprocated, maintaining its 14-day quarantine.
Over the weekend, New Zealand announced a similar plan for a travel bubble with the tiny Cook Islands in the Pacific in the first quarter of next year.
Singapore approves Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
Singapore has approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine and expects delivery of the first shots by the end of December, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.
The city-state of 5.7 million people expects to have enough vaccines for everyone by the third quarter of 2021 and will make it free for citizens and long-term residents, Mr Lee said.
While vaccination will be voluntary, Mr Lee said he and other government officials would be among the early recipients along with healthcare workers, other front-line personnel, the elderly and the vulnerable.
Singapore has also signed advanced purchase agreements and made early down-payments on promising vaccine candidates including those being developed by Moderna and Sinovac, setting aside more than $1 billion for shots, authorities said.
GPs in England begin vaccine rollout
Vaccination clinics run by GPs will begin across England but people have been warned that a rise in cases after Christmas socialising could disrupt the roll out of protective jabs.
GP practices in more than 100 locations will have the approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine delivered to them this morning, with some offering vaccinations within hours.
The majority will begin providing vaccination services to their local community from tomorrow, NHS England and NHS Improvement said.
NHS staff including nurses and pharmacists will work alongside GPs to inoculate those aged 80 and over, as well as care home workers and residents.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the only one currently approved for use in the UK but the chances of the University of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine also being rolled out by the end of this year are “pretty high”, according to lead researcher Sarah Gilbert, who is professor of vaccinology at the university.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is still reviewing trial data for the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
Restrictions are due to be relaxed across the UK between 23 and 37 December to allow families to spend time together in “Christmas bubbles” but NHS bosses have warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that any relaxation of restrictions in England’s tier system could trigger a third wave of cases at the busiest time of the year for hospitals.
Meanwhile, schools in Greenwich have been asked to close from this evening and switch to online learning following “exponential growth” of coronavirus in the south east London borough.
In a letter to parents yesterday, council leader Danny Thorpe said he had asked schools to close as Greenwich’s infection rate was at its highest point since March.
In Wales, secondary schools and colleges will move to online learning from today following advice from the Welsh chief medical officer that the public health situation in the country is “deteriorating”.
Additional reporting PA

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