New Zealand eyes early 2022 for reopening its borders to vaccinated travellers
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New Zealand intends to reopen its borders to vaccinated visitors without quarantine in early 2022, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on 12 August.
Since closing her country’s borders in March 2020, the New Zealand powerhouse prime minister has received international recognition and praise for her approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic as the country has maintained some of the lowest COVID-19 rates in the world, with just 26 reported deaths and fewer than 3,000 confirmed cases, per Johns Hopkins data.
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After being closed to international visitors since March 2020 due to the pandemic, the New Zealand government will be implementing a phased approach to its reopening, categorising incoming travelers by risk — specifically low risk, medium risk and high risk.
“Which pathway a traveller takes will be based on the risk associated with where they are coming from and their vaccination status,” Ardern said in a press statement on 12 August. “Each pathway will have testing and isolation requirements proportionate to that risk.”
Vaccinated travellers from countries deemed low risk will be granted quarantine-free entry. Medium-risk entrants will face a combination of self-isolation and/or reduced managed isolation and quarantine for vaccinated travellers. All high-risk individuals, regardless of vaccination status, will be subjected to a 14-day MIQ and testing. MIQ is a managed quarantine.
New Zealand has not decided yet which countries will be on which list. It’s unclear where the U.S. will fall on that list.
“To prepare for the Medium-Risk pathway the Government will run a self-isolation pilot in the second half of this year to test processes and systems for the safe use of this tool,” the prime minister said, and also noted that the country would be using the rest of 2021 to prepare for this “individual risk-based approach” at the border, including implementing new testing and vaccine checking systems.
“Key to this is maintaining our Elimination Strategy. The advice is clear: If we open our borders now we will lose the freedoms and advantages we have achieved so far,” Ardern said. “If we give up our elimination approach too soon there is no going back, and we could see significant breakouts here like some countries overseas are experiencing who have opened up early in their vaccination rollout.”
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To that end, the government is accelerating their vaccination rollout this year due to the delta variant, with hopes of vaccinating “as many New Zealanders as possible and safely (conducting) a self-isolation trial for vaccinated New Zealanders in order to prepare for a phased resumption of quarantine-free travel.” Vaccine priority in New Zealand has been based on age thus far, but now locals of all ages will be able to book their first-dose vaccine appointment starting Sept. 1. Presently, just over 17% of the population has been vaccinated.
“New Zealand remains in a strong position. We don’t have COVID in the community and our economy is more open than most,” said Ardern. “Our plan to reopen our borders both protects the gains we have won, while setting us up to safely reconnect New Zealanders and business with the world and seize the opportunities created by our COVID success.”
In April, New Zealand extended quarantine-free travel reciprocity to neighboring Australia to enable quarantine-free journeys between the two countries. Several Australian states had been allowing quarantine-free travel from New Zealand since October 2020, but New Zealand held off because of isolated outbreaks in Australia.
Featured photo of Napier, New Zealand, by Kerry Marshall via Getty Images.
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