New Zealand set to finally reopen its borders
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After nearly two years of some of the toughest travel restrictions on the planet, New Zealand has circled a date on the calendar to reopen for international visitors: April 30, 2022.
The remote South Pacific nation will remain closed to most international travelers for an additional five months as it cautiously navigates the remnants of another surge in COVID-19 cases that broke out earlier this year. New Zealand has essentially been cut off from overseas tourism for nearly two years and has been eyeing a 2022 reopening for some time.
When international tourism resumes next year, fully vaccinated travelers will be allowed to enter. They will have to self-quarantine for seven days upon their arrival. Along with proof of vaccination, international visitors will also have to show a negative COVID test result taken prior to departure, as well as take a COVID test when they land in New Zealand.
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Vaccinated New Zealanders and those who have residence visas in neighboring Australia can resume traveling to New Zealand even sooner, from 16 January. Fully vaxxed New Zealand citizens and residence visa holders from other countries will be allowed in from 13 February. A travel bubble was established earlier this year between New Zealand and Australia.
“A phased approach to reconnecting with the world is the safest approach to ensure risk is carefully managed,” said COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, per Reuters.
The government has been feeling pressure to ease border restrictions as ex-pat New Zealanders were eager to return home for the holidays. The volatility over travel protocols has reportedly forced Air New Zealand to cancel roughly 1,000 flights to Australia.
Due to its isolated geographic location, the Kiwi government implemented incredibly tight protocols as the pandemic took hold. Those restrictions are said to have helped the New Zealand economy rebound quicker than many other countries. It also contributed to just 40 deaths in New Zealand attributed to COVID, a number far less than recorded in other countries.
But the most recent outbreak, blamed on the highly contagious Delta variant, proved immensely stubborn. Despite placing the city of Auckland under lockdown for three months, the virus continued to spread, forcing New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern to change the country’s COVID strategy. Auckland will shift to a traffic light policy from 3 December that will allow businesses in the country’s largest city to operate again.
In the new system, regions will be slotted into a red, orange, or green setting depending on their level of exposure to COVID-19 and vaccination rates. Auckland, the epicenter of the most recent outbreak, will start at red.
About 83 percent of eligible citizens are said to be fully vaccinated at the moment. However, the prime minister acknowledges the new shift in strategy signals that its time New Zealand treats the virus as endemic.
“The hard truth is that delta is here and not going away, but New Zealand is well set to tackle it because of our high vaccination rates and our latest safety measures including the traffic light system and Vaccine Pass,” Ardern said in a statement.
Featured image by Lingxiao Xie for Getty Images
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