New Zealand to ease restrictions on international travelers vaccinated by Covid in 2022

(CNN) – New Zealand will allow fully vaccinated international travelers to enter the country starting next year, in gradual relief from its strict border restrictions that have been in place for more than 18 months to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Fully vaccinated citizens, residents and tourists will be able to enter the country in three phases, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins explained during a press conference on Wednesday, November 24.

The border will first open to New Zealand citizens and residents traveling from neighboring Australia on January 16, before expanding to include New Zealanders from the rest of the world on February 13.

Fully vaccinated visitors from all other countries, except those considered “high risk,” can visit the Pacific island nation beginning April 30, Hipkins said.

“A phased approach to reconnecting with the world is the safest approach to ensure risk is managed carefully,” he added. “Reduces potential impacts on vulnerable communities and New Zealand’s healthcare system.”

New Zealand closed its borders in March 2020 as part of its push to eradicate Covid-19, and it has some of the strictest border measures in the world.

The early lockdown largely kept infections at bay, aside from an outbreak in the Delta in August, after which the numbers briefly spiked.

The country has recorded more than 10,600 cases and only 40 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But the comparatively low numbers have come at a cost.

Currently, those who want to return must self-quarantine in government-run facilities, which have limited spaces. People have had to join an online lottery to try to secure a spot.

That will change when the new rules go into effect.

Everyone coming to New Zealand will have to self-isolate at home for seven days, show proof of vaccination, a negative Covid-19 test and a statement that they have not been to a high-risk country, Hipkins said.

According to the country’s Ministry of Health, 84% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, while 92% have received at least one dose.

Hipkins said some restrictions would remain in place for the foreseeable future.

“Over time we will get to a point where people will be able to move much more freely across the border and those periods of self-isolation will not be required,” he said. “We haven’t gotten to that point yet.”

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