The New Zealand government plans to build a travel bubble with Australia in the first quarter of next year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday.

The agreement would allow people to travel freely between Australia and New Zealand without having to be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival. Passengers arriving from New Zealand are already exempt from quarantine requirements in Australia.

The travel bubble has been “confirmed by Australian officials,” Ms Ardern said at a press conference, and would depend on “no significant change in circumstances in either country”.

According to a New York Times database, New Zealand, with around five million people, avoided the worst of the pandemic with 2,096 cases and 25 deaths. In Australia, which has a population of around 25.5 million, 28,031 people have tested positive for the coronavirus while 908 have died.

The governments of New Zealand and Australia announced in May that they had reached a formal agreement to create a travel bubble once it was safe. However, in new cases, particularly in Victoria, Australia, plans have been suspended.

Here’s what else you should know in coronavirus news from around the world:

  • Officials in South Korea have instructed schools in the Seoul metropolitan area to put all classes online from Tuesday until at least the end of the year. Further measures can be announced this week as the country struggles to contain its worst outbreak to date. South Korea, with a population of around 50 million, reported 718 new cases on Monday, compared to a record of 1,030 the day before.

  • Japan Also battling a surge in coronavirus cases and will pause a nationwide campaign to promote travel and tourism. As hospitals have come under increasing pressure with the recent surge in new infections, the Go To Travel program will be suspended from December 28th through at least January 11th, and will cover the main holiday of the calendar, New Years, when many people travel home. The program had given consumers substantial discounts to encourage them to support the country’s beleaguered tourism and service sectors.

  • The Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced in a national address that it will be banned for at least five weeks to limit the spread of the virus. Measures include closing schools, gyms, non-essential businesses, theaters and more through January 19th. Doctors’ offices may remain open.

  • Singapore On Monday, the first Asian country approved a coronavirus vaccine from American drug maker Pfizer and announced that the first shipment this month would arrive and be given to Singaporeans and long-term residents for free. Singapore has also agreed to buy vaccines from American drug maker Moderna and Chinese company Sinovac. “If everything goes according to plan, we will have enough vaccines for everyone in Singapore by the third quarter of 2021,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an address to the nation.

  • Officials in Germany urged the public not to rush into stores this week to finish their Christmas shopping as all but those selling essential goods were ready to close on Wednesday amid an increased lockdown. Germany announced the stricter measures on Sunday after weeks of a partial lockdown that kept both schools and businesses open but failed to adequately handle the rising number of new coronavirus cases.

  • Austria The first nationwide mass coronavirus tests were conducted on Sunday, revealing around 4,200 apparently symptom-free infections. A little less than a quarter of the country’s population took part in the free screening, which was available to anyone over the age of 6 who had not been sick in the previous three months. The Austrian Health Minister Rudi Anschober called it “not just a good start, but a successful step towards containing the pandemic in Austria”.

  • The European Union launched a mobile app on Monday designed to enable safe travel between the 27 member countries as well as between Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, which are part of the block’s Schengen zone. The app, called Re-open EU, is intended to help European residents navigate a patchwork of various national restrictions, quarantine and testing requirements. It was introduced before the busy holiday season.

Jennifer Jett, Ben Dooley and Monika Pronczuk contributed to the coverage.

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