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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - SYDNEY — Quarantine-free travel from all Australian states and territories to New Zealand has been suspended, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced on Friday.
The news comes as Australia continues to grapple with a coronavirus outbreak spreading through multiple states despite lockdowns.
"Given the high level of transmissibility of the Delta variant, and the fact that there are now multiple community clusters, it is the right thing to do to keep COVID-19 out of New Zealand," Hipkins said.
From 11:59 p.m. Friday (7:59 a.m. EST), Australians are no longer able to enter New Zealand quarantine-free for at least the next eight weeks.
Ardern said the decision was not taken lightly, but with "multiple outbreaks, and in differing stages of containment" with three Australian states in lockdown, "the health risk to New Zealanders from these cases is increasing."
The Australian state of New South Wales — home to Sydney — reported 136 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours, while Victoria — home of Melbourne — announced 14 new cases over that same period. South Australia reported one new case.
New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would ask the federal government for more Pfizer vaccine doses to be allocated to the state for use in Sydney's west and southwest, both of which are virus hotspots.
The quarantine-free trans-Tasman exchange (usually referred to as a travel bubble) kicked off between the two countries in April.
Roughly half of Australia's population, some 13 million people, is now under some form of lockdown as the country works to stem the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant amid a slow vaccination rollout.
The ever-changing regulations vary from state to state within Australia. People who violate lockdown rules — including the man who sneaked out of hotel quarantine with a bed sheet and the two naked sunbathers who claimed they were on the run to escape a deer — are subject to fines, arrest and even deportation.
Meanwhile, Australia recently halved its international arrivals cap. As of July 14, about 3,000 people per week are permitted to fly into Australia, down from about 6,000.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, there are some 34,000 Australians who have identified themselves as being stuck in a foreign country and unable to come home.
Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the details of the international arrivals cap. The story has been updated with the correct info. — CNN
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