New Zealand will begin easing its border restrictions from January, almost two years after it was closed to keep Covid-19 out, with tourists able to return from the end of April.
Fully vaccinated New Zealanders and other eligible travelers will be able to enter New Zealand from Australia without staying in managed isolation from Jan. 17, and they will be able to travel from all other countries starting Feb. 14, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told a briefing Wednesday in Wellington. All fully vaccinated individuals will be able to travel to New Zealand from April 30 onwards, with the re-opening staged over time, he said.
“Closing our border was one of the first steps we took to keep our country safe from Covid-19 and it’ll be the last thing we open up,” Hipkins said. “We have a clear, simple and safe plan, including a mandatory period of self-isolation.”
The border will open in three steps and all travelers not required to go into managed isolation will still require a negative pre-departure test, proof of being fully vaccinated, a test on arrival, a requirement to self-isolate for seven days and a final negative test before entering the community.
The country closed it borders to everyone except New Zealand citizens and permanent residents on March 19 last year. The following month, the government introduced the managed isolation and quarantine system, which became the key plank of New Zealand’s approach to keeping the virus out of the country.
But the arrival of the delta variant in August this year and the government’s move away from trying to eliminate community spread has undermined the approach. The growing number of cases in the community has forced the government to allow infected people to isolate at home, but fully vaccinated travelers who have tested negative are still required to quarantine.
Hipkins said the opening of the border “logically” follows the bedding in of the country’s new alert system to manage Covid-19, which will start operating on December 3 and moves away from the use of lockdowns.
“Some people and businesses want us to start to open up before Christmas, and that’s understandable, but others want us to be more cautious,” Hipkins said. “There continues to be a global pandemic with cases surging in Europe and other parts of the world, so we do need to be very careful when reopening the border.”
Further details on how self-isolation will work will be released in December, he said.
Pressuring the government to change the MIQ system is a vocal group comprised of thousands of New Zealanders living overseas who have been unable to secure the elusive spots in MIQ facilities and return home.
There has also been pressure from business community — on Monday, Air New Zealand said it will have to cancel around 1,000 flights to Australia through to Dec. 31 due to continued border uncertainty between New Zealand and Australia.
New Zealand recorded 215 cases of Covid-19 in the community on Wednesday.