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Full reopening of New Zealand postponed until October

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers walk through a retail district in the wake of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown restrictions being eased in Auckland, New Zealand, November 10, 2021. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall

New Zealand announced on Thursday a partial reopening of its border, which has been mainly closed for two years due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but travel groups say self-isolation requirements must be lifted in order to rebuild the country’s faltering tourism industry.

The news: Vaccinated New Zealanders in Australia will be able to return home without having to stay in state-run quarantine facilities starting Feb 27, while New Zealand nationals in the rest of the world will be able to do so two weeks later, according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

  • Beginning March 13, foreign vaccinated travellers and some skilled employees will be allowed to enter the country, while up to 5,000 international students will be able to enter starting April 12.
  • Tourists from Australia and other visa-free nations will be allowed in by July, while visitors from the rest of the globe would be barred from entering until October.
  • All travellers would still be required to self-isolate for ten days, according to Ardern.

What Arden said: Opening borders in a controlled manner would allow individuals to reunite and assist to fill labour shortages while also guaranteeing that the healthcare system could handle an expected increase in cases.

  • “Our strategy with Omicron is to slow the spread, and our borders are part of that,” she told a business audience in Auckland. The highly contagious variant of the virus currently dominant around the world was recently detected in New Zealand, and case numbers are slowly mounting.

What’s going on: For the past two years, New Zealand has maintained some of the strictest border controls in the world in order to keep the coronavirus out.

  • Foreigners were barred from entering, and citizens who wanted to return had to submit emergency requests to the government or apply online for a spot in the state’s quarantine facilities, known as MIQ.
  • Critics have called the system unfair. The opposition National party leader Christopher Luxon described MIQ as a “lottery of human misery”.
  • Infections and deaths were kept to a minimum as a result of the rules. New Zealand, a country of five million people, has had roughly 17,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and only 53 deaths so far.
  • However, it cut off tens of thousands of New Zealanders from their relatives back home, resulted in employment losses for locals, and wreaked havoc on businesses that rely on overseas tourism.
  • Last week, a pregnant journalist who was stranded in Afghanistan brought attention to the issue of tight border controls. She has since been accepted into MIQ and will be returning in March.
  • The travel and tourist industry lambasted the self-isolation restrictions, claiming they precluded any significant recovery in what had previously been the country’s leading foreign exchange earner.

Facts and figures: If the self-isolation regulations continue in place, he said, demand from Australia’s tourism market is expected to be only 7 per cent of 2019 levels, according to Auckland Airport’s study.

  • Isolation restrictions, according to an Australian travel agency spokeswoman, would be a “deal breaker” for the great majority of potential travellers.
  • The self-isolation regulation, according to Tourism Export Council of New Zealand CEO Lynda Keene, is a “total handbrake that will keep New Zealand detached from the world, not reconnected.”

The government will reassess the self-isolation regulations, according to Ardern.

“It will be a much more meaningful reopening for tourists if they are able to enter with lesser self-isolation,” she told reporters.

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