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Joy, Relief In Airports As Australia And New Zealand Open 'Travel Bubble'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The arrivals hall in airports across Australia and New Zealand are about to get much busier.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Unintelligible).

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Yay. Welcome to Sydney.

SHAPIRO: That's a small sampling of the many emotional reunion videos circulating online. They show the first passengers of the Australia-New Zealand travel bubble arriving at their destinations.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Until today, New Zealand had required travelers from Australia to quarantine upon arrival. Australia had dropped that requirement late last year.

SHAPIRO: Mark Carrington told Australia's Seven Network how he felt after landing in Sydney.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK CARRINGTON: Amazing. It's been nearly two years. And I haven't seen my partner for that period of time. So it's been very tough - yeah, really tough.

KELLY: Traveler Denise O'Donoughue told AFP how she predicts her landing in New Zealand will go.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DENISE O'DONOUGHUE: Yell, scream, cry, hug, kiss (laughter), happy - all of those emotions all at once, I'm sure.

SHAPIRO: Throughout the pandemic, various plans for travel bubbles have been discussed between countries and cities. At least one among the Baltic states was started, stopped and started again over the last year. Earlier this month, Taiwan and Palau launched their own no-quarantine travel bubble.

KELLY: New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, told reporters Monday that the Australia-New Zealand bubble is a significant step in getting New Zealand back to normal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: What the bubble will mean for each of us personally is important. But what's also important is what it will mean for the economy and our economic recovery. According to Tourism New Zealand forecasting, welcoming Australians back could mean a billion-dollar boost.

KELLY: And her counterpart, Australia's prime minister, Scott Morrison, also told reporters the bubble is a win-win for both countries.

SHAPIRO: This arrangement has been months in the making. And Australia has logged thousands more coronavirus cases and hundreds more deaths than New Zealand. Jennifer Nuzzo at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security says while the travel bubble is a step toward normalcy, it is not without risks.

JENNIFER NUZZO: It's not zero risk to allow travel in and out of countries. And we've seen this, I think, most acutely in Australia, where there have been a number of clusters of cases found probably related to travel. So it is possible that both countries could see clusters of cases here and there. But so far, they've demonstrated a commitment to be able to respond when they do occur.

KELLY: And the bubble is not without rules. For example, citizens cannot have traveled outside of their country within 14 days. And they must be COVID-symptom-free before departure. They must also wear masks on the flight.

SHAPIRO: But knowing what's at the end of that journey, those rules seem like a small price to pay to finally be reunited with friends and loved ones. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.