New Zealand will begin opening its borders to vaccinated travellers from “low-risk” countries from early next year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.
The New Zealand PM said on Thursday that the country is preparing to re-open quarantine-free travel for vaccinated people from countries considered low risk by March 2022.
Like Australia, the country has kept the majority of its international borders shut since March 2020.
The New Zealand government’s plan also accounts for vaccinated travellers from ‘medium risk’ countries, and is yet to determine whether such travellers will undertake a period of self-isolation at home, or undergo a shorter stay in the current hotel quarantine system.
Under the new program, unvaccinated travellers, or anyone coming from a ‘high-risk’ country regardless of vaccination status, will still be required to enter 14 days mandatory hotel quarantine.
PM Ardern said it will be the first step in a series of phases that will see New Zealand eventually re-open to the rest of the world.
“Our ultimate goal is to get to quarantine-free travel for all vaccinated travellers … but we’re simply not in a position to fully reopen just yet,” she said.
“When we move we will be careful and deliberate, because we want to move with confidence and with as much certainty as possible.”
A pilot of the program is likely to begin for selected vaccinated New Zealanders between October and December this year, and will see these people self-isolate at home, rather than enter government-managed isolation quarantine (MIQ) facilities.
Along with the announcement on the phased relaxation of border restrictions, PM Ardern also reiterated the country’s commitment to COVID elimination, which the PM said will forever change how New Zealand welcomes new arrivals into the country.
“Just like after 9/11, the border will never be the same after COVID,” she said. “Things can change, but that doesn’t mean we can’t adapt to them in a way that eventually feels normal again.
“If we give up our elimination approach too soon there is no going back, and we could see significant breakouts here like some countries overseas are experiencing who have opened up early in their vaccination rollout.”
Australia is expected to adopt a similar ‘traffic light’ system, however, the government continues to operate under the assumption the international borders will not be re-opened until mid-2022.
New Zealand and Australia previously had a quarantine-free ‘travel bubble’ agreement, however this arrangement was suspended for at least two months by PM Ardern last month, due to COVID concerns.
The country had already suspended the bubble to NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
Flag-carrier Air New Zealand said it expected the travel bubble pause to have a severe impact on its financial results, and revised its forecast full-year 2021 results to a loss of NZ$530 million ($505 million).
“The airline continues to assess the impact of this temporary suspension on passenger demand,” the airline said in a statement.
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