Hugs, tears as ‘Fortress New Zealand’ loosens the border
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the change was cause for celebration, especially for the tens of thousands of New Zealanders abroad eager to return home.
“We look forward to seeing you,” Ardern told reporters in Wellington. “It is also an important milestone for our tourism sector and regional economies.”
Until now, Kiwi expats entering the country had to undergo 10 days of isolation in expensive and oversubscribed hotel rooms.
The requirement was dropped for New Zealanders arriving from Australia on Monday and will be extended to all expats on Friday.
Ardern said arrivals will not have to self-isolate, as originally planned.
She also said the government plans to speed up the gradual reopening of the border to all travellers, although no timetable has yet been set.
Ardern 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 sooner.
“Whenever we’ve seen a significant change in the pandemic, we act very quickly to safely adjust what we’re doing,” she said.
Tight border controls have been a key part of New Zealand’s success in containing the coronavirus, with just 56 deaths recorded out of a population of five million.
But the Omicron epidemic has increased in recent weeks, with 14,657 new cases reported on Monday, and Ardern said the country’s high vaccination rate of around 95% “provides strong protective coverage”.