New Zealand has unveiled its plan to reopen the international border after more than two years of being mostly shut off from the rest of the world.
Fully vaccinated Kiwis and other eligible travellers departing Australia- predominantly those with an exemption – will be able to enter from 11.59pm February 27.
The same groups entering from elsewhere in the world can enter two weeks later, on March 13.
Those entering will skip hotel quarantine but will still need to self-isolate for seven or 10 days.
Anyone from Australia can enter New Zealand without having to go through quarantine by July – and the nation’s border will ‘fully reopen to visitors from anywhere in the world” by October.
The announcement on Thursday ends months of misery for separated families and citizens wanting to return but unable to secure a place in hotel quarantine.
In a statement, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the time is right for New Zealanders to “reconnect with one another.”
“This is a very carefully developed plan that replaces MIQ for the vast majority of travellers while ensuring we maintain ongoing measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community from recent arrivals,” he wrote.
“With 94 percent of our population fully vaccinated, and 92 percent of those over 18 now eligible for a booster by the end of February it’s time to shift gears in our COVID-19 response to focus on reconnection and recovery.
“Families and friends need to reunite. Our businesses need skills to grow. Exporters need to travel to make new connections.”
Travellers to New Zealand will initially have to spend ten days in home isolation upon arrival.
However, this will be reduced to seven when COVID-19 becomes more widespread in the community.
Unvaccinated travellers will still need to enter hotel quarantine.
All arrivals will be provided three rapid antigen tests at the airport, one for use on day 0/1, and one for use on day 5/6, and a spare.
“This approach means we will continue to identify cases that enter though the border and limit their wider contact with the community,” Minister Hipkins added.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will address her nation to share more details about the plan later today.
New Zealand has operated a tough border policy since March 2020 in a hardline effort to squash COVID-19.
It is currently is the only country in the world that prevents citizens from returning to their homeland.
Passport holders overseas have been forced to enter a lottery system to score a coveted spot in one of the limited number of quarantine rooms, with thousands missing out each time the online draw is held.
The new home isolation system offers far less freedom than what was offered last year under the short-lived trans Tasman bubble
That arrangement, which ran from April to July, allowed people to travel freely between Australia and NZ.
The New Zealand government has faced growing calls to remove border restrictions after Omicron was detected in the community last month.
Public health experts and outbreak modellers say NZ’s current daily case record – 222 – will be beaten within days, and case numbers will be in the thousands this month.
– With AAP