The government said Wednesday that New Zealand will reopen its borders to the rest of the globe in the coming months, allowing displaced people to return in January and visitors in April.
When the epidemic broke out, the South Pacific nation instituted stringent border controls, virtually prohibiting visitors and required returning citizens to spend two weeks in a military-run quarantine hotel.
Demand for quarantine beds has outstripped supply at times, with some evacuated households having to wait months for a spot.
For the first 18 months of the epidemic, border controls were seen as critical to maintaining New Zealand virus-free.
However, an epidemic in August proved hard to contain, causing New Zealand to abandon its extermination plan in October. Vaccination rates have also risen, making border controls more difficult to justify.
Chris Hipkins, the COVID-19 Response Minister, said the government had made difficult trade-offs to keep New Zealanders as safe as possible throughout the epidemic.
“We recognize that it has been really difficult. Families have been broken apart. People have been forced to seek refuge in locations where they did not plan to stay for lengthy periods of time,” Hipkins added. “We’re well aware of the negative impact these limitations have had on people’s lives and livelihoods.”
At least for the time being, all inbound tourists will be obliged to isolate themselves for seven days under the government’s plan.
Hipkins stated that reopening the border in phases would help to decrease the virus danger posed by arriving tourists.
New Zealanders who have been fully vaccinated will be permitted to return from Australia without being quarantined from Jan. 16 and from other destinations starting Feb. 13. From April 30, the entrance will gradually open to visitors and other travelers.
New Zealand is also lifting a very-high-risk classification from Indonesia, India, and Brazil, enabling citizens from those nations to return or visit the country.
New Zealand said earlier this week that pubs, restaurants, and gyms in Auckland will be able to reopen on December 2, ending the country’s largest city’s lockdown, which began in August.
It also marked the start of a new phase in New Zealand’s pandemic response, in which everyone in the country must be completely vaccinated in order to do anything from get a haircut to go to a concert.
Approximately 69 percent of New Zealanders are completely vaccinated, with 84 percent of those aged 12 and up being fully vaccinated. Since the outbreak began, New Zealand has reported just 40 coronavirus deaths.