New Zealand is bringing forward the opening of its international borders to some travellers, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying an influx of tourists will boost the nation’s economy. The change, coming months ahead of schedule, means the end of some of the toughest border controls in the world during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have now received guidance that it is safe to significantly bring forward the next stage of border reopening work, bringing back our tourists,” Ardern said during the Wednesday announcement.
New Zealand’s international borders will reopen to Australians from 12 April and visa waiver tourists from 01 May but two COVID-19 tests will be required during their trip.
However, Prime Minister Ardern confirmed on Wednesday that the two rapid antigen tests given to tourists upon their arrival will not be supervised and the Government will rely on personal responsibility.
Tourists will still need to be fully vaccinated, be required to submit a pre-departure test before their flight, and will be asked to self-isolate according to the Government’s rules if they test positive for COVID-19 in New Zealand.
Ardern promised tourists will be well cared for if they test positive for COVID-19. She said tourists will be given a care pack on arrival that would include two rapid antigen tests.
“They would want to be prepared,” Ardern said, when asked if tourists will need to be able to afford to self-isolate during their trip.
Last month the Government announced a staged border reopening, with fully vaccinated Kiwis the first to be able to return home without needing to spend time in state-run managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ), and as of late last month, without the need to isolate at all.
But there was less clarity about when tourists could return. An indication of “July” was given for visitors from visa-waiver countries to visit, but the Government said it could possibly be brought forward.
“Closing our border was one of the first actions we took to stop COVID-19 two years ago. It did the job we needed. But now that we’re highly vaccinated and predicted to be off our Omicron peak, it’s now safe to open up,” Ardern said on Wednesday.
“Reopening in time for the upcoming Australian school holidays will help spur our economic recovery in the short term and is good news for the winter ski season.”
Trans-Tasman travellers have historically made up 40 percent of our international arrivals, with around 1.5 million Australians visiting each year.
“While we know it will take some time to see tourism scale up again, today’s announcement will be a welcome boost for our tourism operators who have done it harder than many over the last two years,” Ardern said.
“In a world still battling COVID-19, travellers will be discerning about where they go in the short term. Our strong health response including the lowest death rate in the OECD over the past two years and our high rates of vaccination, alongside our reputation as a beautiful place to visit, will be an asset in this market.”
The Government’s vaccine passes and mandates would prevent tourists from visiting hospitality venues and other close contact businesses required to use them under the COVID Protection Framework, or traffic light system.
Ardern said Cabinet will decide the future of vaccine passes and mandates next week. If vaccine passes are still required, the Government will ensure it doesn’t interrupt tourists, she said.
ACT leader David Seymour urged Ardern to make a decision now.
“If tourists are coming back, we need to drop restrictions. Instead of being ready with that announcement today, Jacinda says it’s coming later,” Seymour said.
“Ardern will feed off her addiction to standing at the podium and making announcements. New Zealanders are fed up with being treated like children. We want to know what’s going on. We want to be able to plan our lives. We want to move on.”
Tourism Industry Aotearoa communications manager Ann-Marie Johnson said she was thrilled about the reopening dates.
“Tourism was the first industry to be affected by the pandemic and will be the last to recover. Tourism operators both large and small have made huge sacrifices but can now focus on rebuilding their businesses,” Johnson said.
“We hope today’s announcement will give some Australian families time to book their holiday travel. But looking further ahead, it will definitely be a huge boost for our ski season.”