The New Zealand government’s slow approach to reopening its borders is now in full swing with overseas-based citizens returning home. New Zealanders stranded overseas by the pandemic returned home at the beginning of March as the country began relaxing some of the world’s toughest COVID-related border restrictions.
NEW ZEALAND’S ‘STRONG BLANKET OF PROTECTION’ Strict border controls were a key part of New Zealand’s success containing the coronavirus, with only 56 deaths recorded in a population of five million.
But the Omicron outbreak has surged in recent weeks, with 14 657 new cases reported on Monday, and Ardern said the country’s high vaccination rate of about 95% “provides a strong blanket of protection”.
NEW ZEALAND IS CELEBRATING Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the change was cause for celebration, particularly for the tens of thousands of New Zealanders keen to return home. “We can’t wait to see you,” Ardern told reporters in Wellington.
“It’s also a huge milestone for our tourism sector and regional economies”. Until now, expats entering the country needed to undergo 10 days of isolation in expensive and over-subscribed hotel accommodation.
Ardern said the arrivals will not have to self-isolate, as originally planned. She also said the government was planning to speed up the staged reopening of the border to all travellers, although no timetable has yet been set.
Ardern further said the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the community meant the impact of cases at the border was less pronounced, allowing restrictions to be removed earlier. “Every time we have seen a significant change in the pandemic, we’re moving very rapidly to safely adjust what we do,” she said.
At Auckland airport, relatives carrying signs such as “welcome home my dearest daughter” scooped up loved ones allowed into the country without mandatory hotel quarantine for the first time in almost two years.
AUSTRALIA ALSO OPEN Australia has also reopened its borders to fully vaccinated tourists almost two years after imposing strict COVID-19 travel restrictions. The Australian government has launched an AUS$40 million (R434.2 million) advertising campaign to lure tourists back, but only 56 international flights are scheduled to land in the country in the 24 hours after the re-opening – far below pre-pandemic levels.