Reopening New Zealand’s international border is next on Jacinda Ardern’s COVID to-do list after announcing a December 15 end to the “Auckland prison”.
Auckland has been in lockdown since August 17 – 93 days ago – as the country grapples with a Delta outbreak, reportedly imported from New South Wales.
COVID-19 has never hit New Zealand harder than now.
On Thursday, two more deaths were reported – a woman in her 80s and a man in his 90s in Auckland hospitals – as well as 167 new community cases.
The virus is spreading into new towns that have been COVID-free, with Tauranga, Mount Maunganui, Palmerston North and Levin recording cases.
Still, as vaccination rates rise, the government has come under immense pressure to let double-jabbed Aucklanders return to work, education and travel.
Ms Ardern relented this week, announcing freedom of movement in and out of NZ’s biggest city from December 15 – but only for vaccinated Kiwis, or those with proof of a negative test.
She also announced NZ will also shift away from mass lockdowns in early December, with a date to be set at a crunch cabinet meeting on November 29.
When will New Zealand reopen to the world?
With the big internal decisions out of the way, the last major call is when NZ will open up to the world.
A government spokesman told AAP that decision would be made in the next fortnight.
Presently, all international arrivals must quarantine for a week in the MIQ system, and win a place in quarantine in what is a hotly-contested ballot.
The government’s reopening plan, announced in August, is to allow home isolation instead of quarantine from the first quarter of 2022.
Many see that plan as outdated, given it was designed when COVID-19 was not present in the community.
“There is a strong case for limiting MIQ for those flying into Auckland to just those from very high-risk countries,” University of Otago professor Nick Wilson said.
“For most arrivals into Auckland, the risk could be appropriately managed by testing and perhaps some period of home quarantine.”
More than 2000 Kiwis who have caught COVID-19 in the local outbreak are isolating at home, but those seeking to come home who are fully vaccinated and don’t have the virus are either stuck overseas or must quarantine in hotels.
“This is an awful situation for families … having Christmas dinner with an empty seat at the table with a waiting for a family member to come home,” opposition leader Judith Collins said.
The opposition accuses the government of fear-mongering by calling overseas-based Kiwis “cumulative risks” and suggesting “the floodgates will open” for COVID-19 they are let home.
“No one is fear-mongering. We are simply describing as the reality of what we will need to manage,” Ms Ardern said.
“This is a considerable change in the way that we have managed COVID-19 and we’re ensuring that we step through these changes deliberately and carefully.”
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