New Zealand to reopen borders in 2022

(CNN) – New Zealand will allow fully vaccinated international travelers to enter the country from next year, in a gradual easing of its strict border restrictions that have been in place for more than 18 months to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Fully vaccinated citizens, residents and tourists will be allowed to enter the country in three phases, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins explained at a press conference on Wednesday, November 24.

The border will first open to New Zealand citizens and residents traveling from neighboring Australia on January 16, before expanding to include New Zealanders from the rest of the world on February 13.

Fully vaccinated visitors from all other countries except those considered “high risk” can visit the Pacific island nation from April 30, Hipkins said.

“A phased approach to reconnect with the world is the safest approach to ensure that risk is carefully managed,” he added. “This reduces the potential impacts on vulnerable communities and the New Zealand health system.”

New Zealand closed its borders in March 2020 as part of its efforts to eradicate Covid-19, and has some of the toughest border measures in the world.

The early lockdown largely kept infections at bay, with the exception of an outbreak of Delta in August, after which numbers briefly rose.

The country has recorded more than 10,600 cases and just 40 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But the relatively low numbers came at a cost.

Right now, those wishing to return must self-quarantine at government-run facilities, which have limited space. People had to sign up for an online lottery to try and secure a space.

That will change when the new rules come into effect.

Anyone coming to New Zealand will have to self-isolate at home for seven days, show proof of vaccination, a negative Covid-19 test and a statement that they have not been to a high-risk country, Hipkins said .

According to the country’s health ministry, 84% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, while 92% have received at least one dose.

Hipkins said some restrictions will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

“We will eventually reach a point where people can move much more freely across the border and these periods of self-isolation will not be necessary,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”

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