New Zealand has announced a five-stage reopening of its international borders, which have been closed to most foreign travelers since March 2020 because of COVID-19.
New Zealand's phased approach to reopening its international borders will begin on February 27.
Fully vaccinated citizens and other visa holders traveling from Australia will be allowed into New Zealand without spending two weeks in a state-managed isolation and quarantine facility known as MIQ. All arrivals must, however, self-isolate at home for 10 days.
Border rules for New Zealanders in other countries as well as international students and migrant workers will gradually be relaxed in the coming months.
New Zealand's borders have been closed for almost two years. Most foreign travelers have been banned, apart from a brief travel bubble with Australia last year.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday stressed the importance of reconnecting families and friends, as well as boosting the economy.
She said the new border rules were part of a "journey back to a new normal."
"I know while many will celebrate today's reopening, others will feel anxious about the resumption of people across our border. But here are the safeguards. We will be as boosted as possible at the end of February. The phasing reduces the risk of a surge in cases, and travelers will be testing and isolating, with MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) remaining for the unvaccinated. This means we will know quickly if a traveler has the virus, including any new variants," she said.
Business groups, however, have said the new rules will not help New Zealand's ailing tourism sector, which has been hit hard by pandemic border closures.
Some travel companies believe there is little appetite among international visitors to go to New Zealand if they have to isolate for 10 days. The government has said the quarantine regulations will be reviewed.
New Zealand — a South Pacific nation with a population of about 5 million — has imposed some of the world's toughest coronavirus border measures.
Prime Minister Ardern has acknowledged the heartbreak they have caused to families, but she has insisted they have saved lives.
New Zealand has recorded about 17,000 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. Fifty-three people have died, according to official data.
About 94% of the eligible population has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.