The New Zealand government has delayed its planned restart of quarantine-free travel for its citizens and residents until the end of February, due to the current Omicron outbreak.
The government had previously announced that fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens would be able to travel to Australia and return home without entering a two-week quarantine from 16 January.
Meanwhile, double-jabbed Kiwis would be free to return home from anywhere else in the world from 13 February – in a system very similar to Australia’s.
However, this easing of border restrictions has now been delayed until at least the end of February, in light of Omicron variant fears.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said, “All of the evidence so far points to Omicron being the most transmissible COVID-19 variant yet.
“There’s no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it’s important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans.”
New Zealand has also previously announced that double-jabbed tourists from around the globe would once again be welcomed into New Zealand for the first time since the pandemic started, from 30 April. It is not yet known if this date will similarly be pushed back.
When borders do inevitably open for fully vaccinated New Zealanders, all travellers will still be required to take a COVID test on arrival and self-isolate for seven days before entering the community. Pre-flight testing will also be required prior to departure.
Fully vaccinated New Zealanders have been free to travel to Australia without entering a two-week quarantine since 1 November, however, New Zealand is yet to reinstate the two-way travel bubble for Australians to enter.
In light of the delayed easing of border restrictions, New Zealand national carrier Air New Zealand has been forced to cancel over 120 flights through to the end of February – largely trans-Tasman services.
Over 27,000 passengers are affected by cancellations, and the airline will reach out directly to impacted customers.
Air New Zealand chief executive officer Greg Foran said the news will be tough for many New Zealanders who had planned to jump across the pond for a holiday in January or reunite with family.
“Our heart goes out to those who were counting down the days until they could reconnect with their family and friends.
“While this news is disappointing for the airline, we know these changes are put in place to keep Aotearoa safe. We’ll now need to navigate our way through what these changes mean for our customers, as we have done over the past 23 months,” he said.
All New Zealand citizens and residents returning to the country before the end of February will be required to secure a spot within the nation’s government-managed quarantine and isolation facilities (MIQ) before boarding their flight.
Customers making future bookings with Air New Zealand will need to have secured a MIQ spot before booking their flight home.
“We are here for our customers, and as we have throughout the pandemic, we will continue to fly to get them home to Aotearoa as MIQ allocations allow,” Foran said.
“Even though it may not be as soon as we had hoped, when the day comes our team will be standing tall, with a big smile, ready to welcome customers on board once again.”
The airline said it will continue to operate a reduced schedule from New Zealand to Australia but will be consolidating its schedule and only operating services out of Auckland.