Wellington, New Zealand (AP)-The government announced on Wednesday that New Zealand will reopen its borders to the world in the next few months, allowing displaced residents to return from January and tourists from April.
When the pandemic began, the South Pacific country imposed strict border restrictions, effectively banning tourists, and requiring returning residents to spend two weeks in isolated hotels run by the military.
Sometimes, the demand for isolation beds far exceeds the supply, causing some displaced residents to wait for months to find available beds.
In the first 18 months of the pandemic, border measures were considered the key to keeping New Zealand from the virus.
However, it turns out that the August outbreak cannot be extinguished, which prompted New Zealand to abandon its elimination strategy in October. Vaccination rates have also been rising, which makes border measures increasingly difficult to justify.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the government has made difficult trade-offs to keep New Zealanders as safe as possible throughout the pandemic.
“We admit it’s very difficult. The family has separated. People find themselves having to take refuge in places where they don’t want to stay for a long time,” Shipkins said. “We are keenly aware of the impact of these restrictions on personal lives and livelihoods.”
According to the government’s plan, all incoming passengers will still need to self-quarantine for 7 days, at least for now.
Hipkins said it hopes to reduce the virus risk posed by inbound passengers by reopening the border in stages.
From January 16th, fully vaccinated New Zealanders will be able to return from Australia without isolation, and after February 13th they can return from other countries. Then, starting from April 30th, the gate will be opened to tourists and other travelers in stages.
New Zealand has also cancelled certain countries/regions including Indonesia, India, and Brazil for very high-risk determinations, allowing people from these countries/regions to return or visit.
New Zealand announced earlier this week that Auckland’s bars, restaurants and gyms could reopen from December 2nd, eliminating the last remnants of the lockdown measures implemented in August in the country’s largest city.
This also marks a new stage in New Zealand’s response to the pandemic. People across the country need to be fully vaccinated to participate in everything from haircuts to concerts.
Approximately 69% of New Zealanders have been fully vaccinated, and 84% of those 12 years of age and older are vaccinated. Since the beginning of the pandemic, New Zealand has only reported 40 deaths from the coronavirus.