New Zealand has postponed its phased border re-opening plans until the end of February over concerns of the rapid global spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
New Zealand had just started easing some of the world’s toughest pandemic measures and its international border restrictions were to progressively loosen from January, with all foreign tourists allowed into the country from April.
Non-quarantine travel, which was to have opened for New Zealanders in Australia from 16 January, would be pushed back until the end of February, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said at a press conference in Wellington.
“All of the evidence so far points to Omicron being the most transmissible COVID-19 variant yet.
“There’s no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it’s important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans.”
The measures were a precaution as it was still unclear how sick Omicron makes people and the impact it had on health systems were not yet fully understood, he said.
New Zealand also said the length of stay in state quarantine facilities would be increased from a week to 10 days.
The pre-departure test requirement to enter New Zealand was reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours before travel.
National airline Air New Zealand said it would cancel around 120 services through to the end of February due to the re-opening plans being pushed back, affecting about 27,000 customers. Most of the cancelled services are across the Tasman with only a small reduction in frequency on some long-haul flights.
Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Greg Foran says this will be incredibly tough news for many.
“Our heart goes out to those who were counting down the days until they could reconnect with their family and friends.
“While this news is disappointing for the airline, we know these changes are put in place to keep Aotearoa safe. We’ll now need to navigate our way through what these changes mean for our customers, as we have done over the past 23 months.”
“We are here for our customers, and as we have throughout the pandemic, we will continue to fly to get them home to Aotearoa as MIQ allocations allow.”
“Even though it may not be as soon as we had hoped, when the day comes our team will be standing tall, with a big smile, ready to welcome customers on board once again.”
All existing quarantine-free flights from Australia to New Zealand between 17 January and 28 February 2022 will be cancelled and there will be a limited schedule of quarantine flights will be available to book.
Customers are asked to continue to check the airline’s Travel Alerts page for further updates.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the decisions were taken to give the government more time to prepare for Omicron.
“It’s unfortunately not a case of if (it spreads in New Zealand) but when … it’s so easily spread. So we are doing everything we can to make sure we are prepared,” Ardern said on Facebook Live.
New Zealand has reported 22 cases with the Omicron variant but all at the border quarantine facilities and there have been no community cases yet.
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