New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a five-stage plan to reopen the country’s borders to the rest of the world.
In the first phase of the border reopening plan, fully vaccinated New Zealanders who are currently in Australia will be allowed to return home starting from midnight on February 27, 2022.
Fully vaccinated New Zealanders in other countries will be allowed to return home from March 13, 2022, and borders are expected to be completely opened to all international travellers by October.
Speaking on the border reopening plan, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that New Zealand is well on its way to reaching full reopening of the borders.
New Zealand introduced some of the strictest border closure and travel restriction measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus and has recorded less than 18,000 cases and only 53 deaths.
While the harsh border control measures were effective in curbing the spread of Covid-19 in New Zealand, Ms Ardern acknowledged the heartache caused by strict quarantine rules.
She said that border closures have been an enormous inconvenience to many people, but stressed that it has also saved many lives.
Ms Ardern also revealed that tough border control measures had given New Zealand the time needed to get people vaccinated and prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed with patients.
New Zealand has fully vaccinated around 93 per cent of its population aged 12 and above, which has allowed for the border restrictions to be relaxed, leading to borders being reopened.
As part of the border reopening plan, fully vaccinated arrivals from abroad will be allowed to self-isolate for ten days instead of having to quarantine in government-approved hotels.
At the moment, New Zealand residents who are allowed to return to the country through a lottery system are required to quarantine in state-run facilities for ten days.
However, a lack of available spaces has created a significant bottleneck that has prevented many people from returning to New Zealand despite being cleared of border restrictions.
Last year, New Zealand announced a travel bubble with Australia for safe travel of citizens and residents, but positive cases in travellers brought an abrupt end to the policy.
In addition to returning citizens and residents, some critical workers will also be allowed to enter New Zealand on March 13, followed by up to 5,000 international students a month later.
Australians and other international travellers who do not need visas will likely be allowed entry to New Zealand from late July, and borders will be completely opened for everyone else from October.