This week, New Zealand expats returning home will be welcomed from all over the world as borders reopen.
The government has accelerated the reopening of the border and removed the requirement for self-isolation upon arrival.
Since March 19, 2020, New Zealand’s borders have been closed, forcing New Zealand expats returning home to either self-isolate or book one of the few remaining MIQ spots to return home.
The changes were confirmed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday, just hours after the first MIQ-free flights from Australia arrived. Passengers on those flights would have to self-isolate until Wednesday at 11:59 p.m.
On Thursday, all fully vaccinated New Zealand expats returning home could fly from Australia to New Zealand without having to go through quarantine or self-isolation.
Borders fully reopen for New Zealand expats returning home
Then, at 11.59 p.m. on Friday, the borders would open to all fully vaccinated New Zealanders.
Ardern’s announcement was not without a stipulation. The emergence of any new, more transmissible, or concerning variant of Covid-19 could result in the reintroduction of MIQ and the imposition of new travel restrictions.
To be ready for any new variants, Ardern stated that the government would retain MIQ facilities and have the system ready to go if necessary.
She also stated that visitors to New Zealand will be required to take a rapid antigen test (RAT) upon arrival and again five to six days later.
Any international traveller who tested positive for Covid-19 should have their infection genome mapped to see if it was a new variant, according to David Skegg’s Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group.
The initial timeline for resuming travel to New Zealand was announced at the beginning of the month, with the goal of allowing New Zealand expats returning home from all over the world to enter on March 13.
Ardern claimed that because of the rapid spread of Omicron across the country this month, it was now “relatively safer” to open the border. She anticipated that the decision would have “minimal” ramifications for the public health system.
“You’ll remember that when we shared our reopening plans, we had less than 150 Covid cases a day. Allowing people to enter New Zealand with no self-isolation would have had a dramatic impact at that time,” she said
Airlines predicted that more than 10,000 people would fly from Australia to New Zealand this week before Monday’s announcement.
Until self-isolation requirements were removed, said Justin Tighe-Umbers, executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives, passenger numbers would remain 88 percent lower than pre-pandemic levels.
Ardern stated that the government would reassess the rest of its border timeline and look to move the date of New Zealand’s reopening to tourists forward. It had planned to open its doors to the rest of the world in October.
Tourism will have to wait
Tourists would not be able to visit New Zealand until the Omicron outbreak had passed its peak, according to Ardern. In March, it was expected to happen.
Michael Barnett, CEO of the Auckland Business Chamber, said the government had heeded sound advice and recognized that circumstances had changed dramatically.
The announcement, according to Act leader David Seymour, was a victory for common sense, but it should have included tourists as well as New Zealand expats returning home.
“Why are we treating non-citizens differently from citizens? A New Zealand passport does not boost your immunity to Covid-19.”
Tourism Industry Aotearoa stated that tourism businesses still require more certainty about when international visitors will be able to visit New Zealand.
“It would be wonderful if we could signal soon that New Zealand will reopen to Australian visitors in time for their April school holiday period which includes Easter,” spokeswoman Ann-Marie Johnson said.
“The industry’s recovery will not begin until high value holidaymakers can enter New Zealand. The sooner we can signal intentions and timelines for reopening both air and maritime borders, the sooner tourism operators can get back to doing what they do best.”