New Zealand officials have outlined a five-stage plan to reopen its borders to the world, ending one of the strictest policies since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The plan will begin to unfold later this month and finish in October, when border restrictions will be completely lifted.
“Families and friends need to reunite,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in announcing the plan. “Our businesses need skills to grow. Exporters need to travel to make new connections. It’s time to move again.”
Starting February 27, New Zealanders and others who have received at least two doses of the vaccine will be allowed to travel home from Australia. On March 13, vaccinated citizens will be allowed home from other places in the world.
Those citizens will still be required to quarantine at home following their arrival.
Non-citizens can begin traveling to New Zealand starting in March. First up will be essential workers and skilled workers earning at least 150 percent of the median wage, as well as family members of workers already.
In April, the border will open to up to 5,000 temporary visa holders and international students.
Starting in July, Australians and tourists from the United States, the European Union, and others who can enter without a visa will be allowed in.
That will be followed in October by opening the doors to all travelers who require a visa.
Ardern said the dates are not set in stone and may be moved forward, depending on how the entries impact the nation’s health and wellbeing.
“We are in a new phase in our Covid response,” Ardern said, according to CNN. “Covid as an illness hasn’t touched many of us to date. But with the transmissibility of omicron, we know we will experience the virus more directly. But the difference here is that we have all the tools possible now to prepare.”
Ardern called the lockdown heartbreaking, but a necessary step to keep the nation safe. New Zealand has been one of the most successful countries in the world in terms of cases and deaths from the virus.
“But the choice to use it, undeniably saved lives,” she said.
Ardern said one reason the border restrictions can be eased is the fact 93 percent of eligible citizens are fully vaccinated, according to the Ministry of Health.
“Opening back up in this managed way balances inflows of travelers so people can reunite and fill our workforce shortages, while also ensuring our health care system can manage an increase in cases,” Ardern said.
She said Kiwis are looking forward to life after coronavirus.
“We are well on our way to reaching that destination,” she said. “But we are not quite there yet.”
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