Don’t pack your bags just yet, but New Zealand’s shift in approach to living with the pandemic could see a relaxation of international border rules by Christmas.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government is now preparing to allow Kiwis with COVID-19 to stay at home or isolate themselves at community facilities if they do not need hospital-level care.
A predicted surge of coronavirus cases on the horizon has prompted the changes.
The hard border has been maintained as New Zealand pursued an elimination strategy against the virus, but the reluctant acceptance of ongoing community cases has turned the government’s mind to a border rethink.
Ms Ardern appears set to loosen the compulsory 14-day stay in a quarantine hotel – known locally as MIQ – on arrival.
“We are actively considering our MIQ settings in light of the fact that we are unlikely to get back to zero cases,” COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said.
“You can expect to see us talking more about that fairly soon.”
International travel has been on hold since July when New Zealand suspended the trans-Tasman bubble due to growing cases in NSW and Victoria.
While there are several COVID-free regions in both countries – including Wellington and the South Island – the government has not had an appetite to reopen the bubble.
In August, a major review suggested NZ move to a traffic light system for arrivals in early 2022, based on the COVID-19 risk profile of where travellers have come from.
It is unclear whether it will continue to pursue that plan, given the virus appears set to stay in NZ.
New Zealand has already issued a vaccine mandate to international arrivals: as of next month, all non-citizens arriving in the country must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
For future moves, the government is keeping a close eye on Australia’s planned reopening from mid-next month.
“People wanting to move between New Zealand and Australia … is one of the areas where there’s the most pressure for movement,” Mr Hipkins said.
“Whenever we’re talking about any changes at the international border, Australia is one of those countries that is absolutely front of mind.”
New Zealand’s case numbers remain low by global standards – the seven-day average is currently 43 – but are rising.
Currently, around 80 per cent of eligible Kiwis have had at least one dose of vaccine, with 57 per cent fully vaccinated.
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