New Zealand has unveiled plans to reopen its borders to vaccinated visitors in the first months of 2022.
The country’s borders have been closed for more than a year-and-a-half, but fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens and residents who are currently in Australia will be allowed to return from January 16 onwards.
In the next phases of the re-opening, New Zealanders, who are in all other countries around the rest of the world will be permitted to enter from February 13.
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Then, finally, the borders will be opened to all other fully vaccinated visitors from April 30, who will be required to self-isolate for seven days upon arrival.
Under the rules, all travellers must be fully vaccinated, will have to self-isolate for a week, and will undergo a test for coronavirus when they arrive.
The easing of travel curbs stands in stark contrast to the harsh restrictions imposed when the pandemic began, which saw the effective banning of tourists and the requirement for returning residents to spend two weeks in a quarantine hotel.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the government had made difficult sacrifices to keep New Zealanders as safe as possible throughout the pandemic.
“We acknowledge that it has been very tough. Families have been separated. People have found themselves having to shelter in places they did not expect to stay for prolonged periods of time,” Mr Hipkins said.
“We are acutely aware of the impact that these restrictions have had on individuals’ lives and their livelihoods.”
New Zealand announced earlier this week that bars, restaurants and gyms can reopen in Auckland from December 2, removing the last remnants of a lockdown that began in the nation’s largest city in August.
About 69% of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, including 84% of those aged 12 and over, with the country reporting 40 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began.
For the first 18 months of the pandemic, the border measures were considered vital in keeping New Zealand free from the virus. But an August outbreak proved impossible to stamp out, prompting New Zealand to abandon its elimination strategy in October.
Vaccination rates have also been rising, making the border measures increasingly hard to justify.