Families separated by the Tasman Sea may yet get to reunite at Christmas after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's most optimistic comments on the resumption of regular travel arrangements with Australia.
COVID-19 brought trans-Tasman travel to a near standstill earlier this year, with both countries slapping heavy restrictions on incoming and outgoing trips and carriers all but abandoning routes due to unprofitability.
Currently, New Zealand is only allowing entry to Kiwi citizens and Australians who normally reside in NZ, with limited humanitarian or economic exemptions, and is mandating a 14-day quarantine.
Ms Ardern says a shift in approach from the Australian government "does open up opportunities" for travel without the fortnight-long isolation.
"The Australians have moved on their previous plans," she told TVNZ.
"Previously they wanted a whole of Australia approach and we said that would slow things down.
"They're now moving to a hotspot regime where certain parts (of Australia) won't be able to be part of free movement between Australia and across the Tasman.
"We're working through the differences that would make for New Zealand and the arrangements we would need to ensure that if we're opening up to one state that border is contained to ensure its safe for New Zealanders."
Australian leaders, including PM Scott Morrison and Trade Minister Scott Birmingham have publicly agitated for quarantine-free travel, and on Monday Deputy PM Michael McCormack added support.
"That would be great for tourism and it would be great to get potentially New Zealand shearers to Australia. The wool clippers need to be done," he said.
"There's so many ways and means we need New Zealanders, just like they need Australians."
"We've been great friends across the Tasman, dating back to Gallipoli and even before that."
Ms Ardern said a trans-Tasman bubble to some states, naming Queensland specifically, should be possible before the end of the year.
"It is possible," she said.
"What we'd need to be assured of is when Australia is saying 'we've got a hotspot over here' that the border around that hotspot means we aren't able to travel into the states we are engaging with on trans-Tasman travel."
Given New Zealand's commitment to a COVID-19 elimination strategy, that may mean Queenslanders are able to travel to New Zealand before they can visit Melbourne.
"We've got a strategy of having a COVID-free country. That's our ongoing goal and way of operating," Ms Ardern confirmed.
It remains to be seen whether New Zealand's re-engagement with Australia on the bubble will also allow for travel with Pacific countries.
Ms Ardern's government had furthered plans to open to the Cook Islands, stressing a high degree of caution owing to a deficiency in Pacific health care.
Australian Associated Press