WELLINGTON – New Zealand plans to allow quarantine-free entry to vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries from early next year as part of a phased reopening of its borders that were shut last year due to the pandemic, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday.
Ardern said the government will move to a new individual risk-based model for quarantine-free travel from the first quarter of 2022 that will establish low-, medium- and high-risk pathways into the country.
Vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries can travel quarantine-free, while those from medium- and high-risk countries will have to go through a combination of quarantine measures ranging from self-isolation to spending 14 days in quarantine.
“We’re simply not in a position to a fully reopen just yet. When we move we will be careful and deliberate, because we want to move with confidence and with as much certainty as possible,” Ardern said in a speech at a forum about reconnecting New Zealanders to the world.
Ardern has won global plaudits for containing local transmission of COVID-19 through a strict elimination strategy. The country has recorded just 2,500 cases and 26 deaths.
Ardern said a self-isolation pilot project will be started this year, and new testing and vaccine checking systems will be set up at the borders.
The country will also speed up its vaccination rollout with all eligible ages able to book in their vaccine by Sept. 1, Ardern said. It will also move to a six-week gap between doses to ensure more New Zealanders are at least partially vaccinated.
Ardern said the government will maintain its elimination strategy.
“If we give up our elimination approach too soon there is no going back, and we could see significant breakouts here like some countries overseas are experiencing who have opened up early in their vaccination rollout,” Ardern said.
Reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington Editing by Leslie Adler and Matthew Lewis