New Zealand reopens to British travellers from May – five months earlier than planned

Mar 16, 2022

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After two years spent shut off by the pandemic, New Zealand is finally ready to “welcome the world back… with open arms”.

Those were the words of the country’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern today (16 March) as she rolled up the shutters to let New Zealand step into the light.

It’s especially good news for Kiwiphiles from Europe and America who had previously been told they would not be allowed back into the country until October.

Related: 8 things to know before visiting Australia right now

But the New Zealand government appears to have fast-forwarded its reopening plan to allow vaccinated Australians into the country from 13 April, then fully-jabbed travellers from a list of 60 visa-waiver countries from 2 May.

Those countries include the United Kingdom, United States of America, Germany, Canada, Japan, and Singapore.

“We’re ready to welcome the world back,” Ardern said. “New Zealand will be ready with open arms.”

“We are ready to roll out the green and gold carpet to our Australian neighbours, and in time for the school holidays,” added tourism minister Stuart Nash. “We have missed you.”

Related: Heathrow, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic join forces to ditch masks in terminals and on flights

It’s been almost exactly two years since New Zealand pulled up the drawbridge to foreigners as COVID-19 swept across the world, setting in motion one of the strictest border policies the world has seen.

As a result, the country has experienced a relatively low COVID-19 death rate – just 115 fatalities since the outbreak emerged.

Now, nearly 95% of the over-12s now double-vaccinated, with 72% having had a booster shot.

The news will be a source of relief to thousands of travellers eager to either return to one of the world’s most beautiful countries or make their first visit.

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At the onset of the pandemic, New Zealand’s rigorous mandates, including 10-day quarantine stays in military-run quarantine hotels for incoming travellers – including citizens – which created a backlog of New Zealanders waiting to get home. Many of whom were entered into a lottery system to get the highly sought after quarantine hotel slots.

Two years into the coronavirus epidemic, the tight grip on border entry is now viewed by some as overreach, especially as the omicron variant has still spread throughout the country.

Related: What it is like to spend 10 days in New Zealand’s government-managed quarantine hotel

It is hard to argue with the results of New Zealand’s restrictions, overall, however. In a country of five million people, it is experiencing 15-20,000 cases a day – the highest rate of its entire pandemic.

“There is no question that for New Zealand, it has been one of the hardest parts of the pandemic,” PM Ardern said in February. “But the reason that it is right up there as one of the toughest things we have experienced is, in part, because large-scale loss of life is not.”

The prime minister said reopening is the beginning of a return to normalcy.

“There was life before, and now life with COVID, but that also means there will be life after COVID too, a life where we have adapted, where we have some normality back, and where the weather can once again take its rightful place as our primary topic of conversation,” Ardern said. “We are well on our way to reaching that destination. We’re just not quite there yet.”

The five-step plan aims to slowly ease COVID-19 restrictions in New Zealand will roll out as follows:

Step 1: 27 February

This was the day when fully vaccinated New Zealanders who are in Australia could return home without the need to quarantine at government-run accommodations. Instead, they can now self-isolate at home.

Step 2: 13 March

Fully-vaxxed New Zealand citizens from all other countries can now return to New Zealand. This also applies to a number of critical and skilled foreign workers coming for specific work reasons. They can skip quarantine and self-isolate at home.

Step 3: 12 April

Australian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed entry into the country as well as around 5,000 international students without self-isolating. It also allows current temporary work and student visa holders from anywhere in the world to enter, with a valid visa.

Step 3 (I): 2 May

The following fully vaccinated people, including those from the U.K., U.S., Germany, Canada, Japan, and Singapore can enter New Zealand and do not need to self-isolate:

  • Visitors from countries who do not need a visa (visa waiver visitors).
  • Visitors from other countries who already hold a valid visitor visa.

For a full list of the countries on New Zealand’s visa waiver programme, visit the NZ government website.

Step 4: July

The following fully vaccinated people can enter New Zealand and do not need to self-isolate or enter MIQ:

  • Travellers arriving under the Accredited Employer Work Visa categories.

Step 5: October

All visa categories will reopen from October 2022, including visitor and student visas.

Additional reporting by Matt Blake.

Featured Image: Phil Walter/Getty Images.

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