New Zealand has announced a phased reopening of its borders, as the country starts to ease some of the world’s toughest Covid restrictions.
Vaccinated New Zealanders in Australia will be able to go home from 27 February, and jabbed citizens in the rest of the world can do so from 13 March, PM Jacinda Ardern says.
They will have to self-isolate for 10 days but mandatory stays at state quarantine facilities will be scrapped.
The plan includes five stages.
New Zealand’s borders have largely been closed for almost two years because of the pandemic.
“Opening back up in this managed way balances inflows of travellers so people can reunite and fill our workforce shortages, while also ensuring our healthcare system can manage an increase in cases,” Ms Ardern said in a speech in Auckland on Thursday morning.
“After all, our strategy with Omicron is to slow the spread [of the Covid variant], and our borders are part of that.”
The prime minister said there was “life before” the virus but “there will be life after Covid too”.
“We are well on our way to reaching that destination. But we are not quite there yet,” she stressed.
The key elements of the plan are as follows:
- Step 1: Fully vaccinated New Zealanders from Australia can return home from 27 February
- Step 2: Fully jabbed citizens from all other countries are able to arrive from 13 March. This also applies to a number of critical and skilled foreign workers
- Step 3: Up to 5,000 international students are allowed into the country from 12 April
- Step 4: Australians and all other visitors who can normally travel visa-free to NZ are expected to be able to travel to the country no later than July
- Step 5: Begins in October and includes all other visitors and students who normally require a visa
New Zealand has recorded nearly 17,000 Covid cases and 53 deaths since the start of the outbreak.
It has operated under strict Covid rules since the start of the pandemic, allowing it to keep deaths to a minimum. It was one of the first countries in the world to close its borders, and it quashed earlier outbreaks with lockdowns.
But since the emergence of the Delta variant, Ms Ardern has switched from a Covid elimination strategy to pushing for higher vaccination rates and treating the virus as endemic.
It is thought that about 94% of the country’s population over the age of 12 is fully vaccinated and 56% of eligible people have had their boosters.