Jacinda Ardern has announced that New Zealand borders would finally reopen to tourists in stages beginning at the end of February, following the derailment of its previous plans to reopen its borders due to the spread of Omicron.
The move will be the first time the country will open up since prime minister Jacinda Ardern declared its abrupt shutdown in the first month of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. With the exception of a brief travel bubble with Australia, New Zealand borders have remained closed for over two years.
“With Omicron’s arrival, we pushed that change in border settings out – to give ourselves the chance to roll out boosters – a chance most other countries never had,” Ardern said in a televised statement on Thursday.
“With our community better protected we must turn to the importance of reconnection. Families and friends need to reunite. Our businesses need skills to grow. Exporters need to travel to make new connections.”
New Zealand borders will initially open to vaccinated New Zealand nationals and visa holders arriving from Australia, then from the rest of the globe, and lastly to all other vaccinated tourists. They will still be required to self-isolate at home for 10 days, but they will no longer be required to pass through the country’s pricey and severely restricted managed isolation facilities, known as Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ).
“It’s easy to hear the word MIQ and immediately associate it with heartache. There is no question that, for New Zealand, it has been one of the hardest parts of the pandemic. But the reason that it is right up there as one of the toughest things we have experienced, is in part because large-scale loss of life is not,” Ardern said.
From Sunday, February 27th, fully vaccinated New Zealanders and other eligible Australian travellers will be able to enter New Zealand without having to stay in MIQ. They can arrive from any country two weeks later. Critical workers and skilled employees will be eligible to enter New Zealand from this date. The working holiday program will also be reinstated.
The two-week interval, Ardern said, will allow public health systems to prepare for the possibility of more cases in the community, and border systems to “keep scaling up in the safest way possible”.
New Zealand borders open to international students
5,000 international students and other temporary visa holders will be allowed to enter New Zealand starting April 12th. Following that, New Zealand borders will be accessible to Australians and other visitors who do not need a visa to enter New Zealand.
“This stage is likely to begin when we have much larger case numbers than we have now. For planning, we anticipate this stage will begin no later than July. I want to place strong emphasis on this being the latest we expect this to begin,” Ardern said.
All other overseas tourists will be able to enter New Zealand from October.
The self-isolation phase will be consistent with New Zealand’s current strategy for addressing instances with close connections. As the duration of isolation for close contacts shortens, returnees will only need to isolate for seven days. Anyone who enters will be given three quick antigen tests to take home with them. Non-vaccinated travelers and other high-risk travelers will continue to be forced to enter MIQ.
Many New Zealanders living in other countries will be relieved by the development. Grounded Kiwis, an organization that represents members of this cohort, claims that the tendency to self-isolation will allow more individuals to return home.
“Kiwis will no longer need to endure a stressful lottery to get home. Many people in our network are overwhelmed with emotion right now. This moment has been a long time coming.”
However, it argues that the 27th of February should be available to all New Zealanders, not only those from Australia: “Many of these individuals have been waiting for months already, are due to start new jobs or university in February, and in many cases are coming from locations with lower levels of Omicron than Australia.”
Grounded Kiwis has encouraged the government to be more flexible in assigning MIQ facilities for persons in emergency situations before the self-isolation regulations are implemented.
According to Professor Michael Plank of Te Pūnaha Matatini and the University of Canterbury, removing travel restrictions and drastically increasing the number of arrivals may easily result in 500 border cases each day. “The timeframe for the first re-opening step on 27 February looks reasonable.”
“By that time, it is likely that daily case numbers will be in the thousands and the vast majority of vaccinated adults will be eligible for their booster. Self-isolation and testing requirements for arrivals will dampen the effect of border cases on community transmission, while removing the bottleneck of MIQ and allowing us to monitor for possible new variants.”
New Zealand Borders: Five Stages of Reopening
STEP 1: 27 February 2022, from 11.59pm:
Reopen to New Zealanders and other eligible travellers under current border settings (e.g. people with border exceptions) from Australia
STEP 2: 13 March 2022, from 11:59 pm:
Reopen to New Zealanders and other eligible travellers under current border settings from the rest of the world
- Open to skilled workers earning at least 1.5 times the median wage
- Open to Working Holiday Scheme visas
STEP 3: 12 April 2022, from 11:59 pm:
- Open to current offshore temporary visa holders, who can still meet the relevant visa requirements,
- Open to up to 5,000 international students for semester two
- Further class exceptions for critical workforces that do not meet the 1.5 times the median wage test will be considered
STEP 4: By July 2022:
- Open to anyone from Australia
- Open for visa-waiver travel
- The Accredited Employer Work Visa will open, meaning the skilled and health worker border exception can be phased out
STEP 5: October 2022:
- Border fully reopens to visitors from anywhere in the world, and all visa categories fully reopen.
The decision to reopen the New Zealand borders came after Tourism New Zealand resumed its global advertising targeting US and UK citizens.