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'The beers are cold': Australia to open up to New Zealanders after COVID border shutdown

SYDNEY (Reuters) - New Zealanders will soon be able to travel to Australia without having to self-quarantine as COVID-19 infections slow and Canberra seeks to revive its ailing economy, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: A cyclist wears a protective face mask in Melbourne after it became the first city in Australia to enforce mask-wearing in public as part of efforts to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

New Zealand citizens and residents would be allowed to travel to Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales and its remote Northern Territory (NT) from Oct. 16, without having to undergo the two-week quarantine required of Australians returning from other nations, McCormack said.

Australia closed its borders in March to all non-citizens to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has claimed 890 lives in the country and brought much of the economy to a standstill.

“I have just gotten off the phone with (NT) Chief Minister (Michael) Gunner who says the fish are biting and the beers are cold, and he wants to see as many of his New Zealand cousins and friends as possible,” McCormack told reporters in Canberra.

New Zealand has effectively eradicated COVID-19, reducing the threat of additional infections in Australia from New Zealand visitors. Only 14 cases have been reported in NSW in the past two weeks - all of them people in hotel quarantine - while the Northern Territory has had no new cases since early August.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said those who travelled to Australia would have to quarantine on their return. She also said New Zealand would not open its borders to Australians for now.

The travel route will provide a badly needed boost to Australia’s economy, which shrank 7% in the three months ended June, the most since records began in 1959.

New Zealand tourists spent A$2.6 billion ($1.86 billion) in Australia during 2019, according to government estimates.

The NSW capital Sydney is Australia’s biggest tourist drawcard, while the Northern Territory boasts Outback attractions like Uluru.

McCormack said Canberra was also considering allowing residents of other countries that have no COVID-19 outbreaks to also enter Australia, although he declined to say which countries were under consideration.

Australia’s second-most populous state Victoria accounts for 90% of national COVID-19 deaths and remains in partial lockdown.

Victorian officials said seven people had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, down from 15 on Thursday and near the four-month low of five cases reported on September 28.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry and Stephen Coates

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