New Zealand has announced a plan to reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travellers for the first time in nearly two years.
Revealing a phased approach to reopening travel, government officials on Wednesday (Nov. 24) said fully-vaxxed international visitors (except those from “high risk” countries) will be allowed to enter the South Pacific country from April 30, 2022, Reuters reports.
Travellers will, however, be required to self-isolate for seven days, provide a negative pre-departure test, a declaration stating that they haven't visited a high-risk country, and be tested for COVID-19 on arrival, officials said.
In addition, vaccinated New Zealanders and residence visa holders in Australia can travel to New Zealand from Jan. 16, while vaccinated New Zealanders and residence visa holders most from other countries will be allowed in from Feb. 13.
"A phased approach to reconnecting with the world is the safest approach to ensure risk is carefully managed," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters Wednesday. "This reduces any potential impacts on vulnerable communities and the New Zealand health system."
The eased restriction means that travellers will no longer be required to stay in a government-controlled quarantine facility.
This was one of several border measures New Zealand introduced last year to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Getting tough on COVID
New Zealand was one of the first nations to rapidly shut its borders early on in the pandemic as part of an aggressive effort to keep COVID-19 infections and death numbers down.
The tough approach, at one point, seemed to be paying off. In June of 2020, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed that New Zealand, having some of the strictest regulations in the world, was progressing to a point of being COVID free.
During that month last year, just two cases of coronavirus infections were confirmed in the country.
However, the COVID-19 Delta variant has interrupted New Zealand’s progress, forcing the government to change its approach, going from a zero-COVID strategy to pushing for higher vaccination rates and treating the virus as endemic.
The country has recorded more than 10,600 cases and 40 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Prime Minister Ardern is currently facing pressure to reopen international borders ahead of the Christmas season so that expatriate New Zealanders can return home, Reuters reports.
The fluid situation has led to heightened uncertainty in air travel, as Air New Zealand announced last week that it had cancelled around 1,000 flights to Australia due to the unpredictable situation at the border.
On Monday, Ardern announced that bars, restaurants and gyms can reopen in Auckland from early December and customers will be required to show proof they've been fully vaccinated.
The announcement ended the last remains of a citywide lockdown that began in August.
The Prime Minister said that New Zealand would move to a pandemic "traffic light" system based around the use of vaccine passports from late Dec. 2.