New Zealand closed its borders in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began and has essentially remained that way since then. Now, however, government officials recently announced the country will gradually begin to reopen following a phased approach.
First, beginning January 16, 2022, fully vaccinated New Zealanders and other visa holders will be able to travel to New Zealand from Australia. Then, beginning February 13, fully vaccinated New Zealanders and other visa holders will be able to travel to New Zealand from other countries. Finally, beginning April 30, tourists and other travelers will be able to enter New Zealand.
“Closing our border was one of the first steps we took to keep our country safe from COVID-19 and it’ll be the last thing we open up,” Chris Hipkins, New Zealand’s COVID-19 response minister, said at a press conference. “We’re making this announcement to give families, businesses, visitors, and airline and airport companies certainty and time to prepare. It’s very encouraging that as a country, we are now in a position to move towards greater normality.”
There have been 10,609 COVID-19 cases in New Zealand since the pandemic began, with only 40 deaths, according to the country’s Ministry of Health. It further notes that 84 percent of the country’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, and 92 percent of the eligible population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
A Phased Reopening
Here’s how New Zealand’s phased reopening strategy will work.
In the first phase, or “Step 1,” the borders will reopen to “fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens and those residence-class visa holders and other travelers eligible under our current settings from Australia from 11:59 p.m. on January 16, 2022 (provided they have been in Australia or New Zealand for the past 14 days),” Hipkins explained.
Next, in “Step 2,” the borders will reopen to “fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens and those residence-class visa holders and other travelers eligible under our current border settings, from all but Very High-Risk countries, from 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, February 13, Hipkins continued.
Finally, under “Step 3,” New Zealand’s borders will be opened to “fully vaccinated foreign nationals (possibly staged by visa category), from April 30 on,” according to Hipkins.
All travelers will still need to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19, proof of a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test, and they must complete a travel history declaration. Travelers then must take another COVID-19 test upon arrival, self-isolate for 7 days, take another test, and receive a negative result before they can enter the country.
Additional details about the self-isolation requirement will be released next month, Hipkins said. Those guidelines will also explain how people can travel from their arrival airport to their self-isolation location.
“Some people and businesses want us to start to open up [our borders] before Christmas, and that’s understandable, but others want us to be more cautious. There continues to be a global pandemic with cases surging in Europe and other parts of the world, so we do need to be very careful when reopening the border,” Hipkins said. “A phased approach to reconnecting with the world is the safest approach to ensure risk is carefully managed. This reduces any potential impacts on vulnerable communities and the New Zealand health system.”
“We acknowledge that [New Zealand’s lockdown] has been very tough,” Hipkins said. “Families have been separated and people have found themselves having to shelter in places they did not expect to stay for prolonged periods of time.”
Indeed, an estimated 1 million New Zealanders live overseas, with nearly 600,000 living in Australia. With that many citizens living abroad, it’s understandable that some of New Zealand’s residents haven’t seen friends and loved ones in nearly 2 years.
News of the country’s plans to reopen its borders has made some New Zealanders emotional.
“Being apart from family, with no end in sight, this announcement has me in tears,” Matt Hipkins, a New Zealander living in Hong Kong, said in an article on The Guardian. “I wasn’t ready for the emotional release, the stress that has been built up over the past year. I’m not given to being overly emotional, but the depth of feeling of being ‘allowed’ back to my home and my family has taken me by surprise.”
While you’re thinking about New Zealand, be sure to read all of our coverage, including: