Thursday was a big day for New Zealand. It announced plans to temporarily reopen its borders to citizens in 2022, but did not mention that foreigners were allowed in.
Jacinda Arden’s government have unveiled plans to slash hotel quarantine in half from 14 to seven days in November and eventually replace it with home isolation amid growing pressure from Kiwis stranded overseas.
Chris Hipkins, Covid-19 Response Minister, stated that ‘we are also very conscious of the pressure building at the border as a world begins to reconnect and the increasing number of New Zealanders here or abroad who want to reconnect with their loved ones.
Local media frequently report on Kiwis unable or unwilling to visit their relatives dying or facing family crisis due to quarantine requirements. Several people have attempted to sail to New Zealand from Australia over the treacherous Tasman sea.
The opposition has reacted furiously to the plan, calling it the bare minimum’ and warning that ‘we cannot remain behind the walls at Fortress New Zealand’.
Chris Bishop, spokesperson for Opposition Covid, said that “it’s time to reopen to the whole world” and that fully vaccinated immigrants from low-risk nations should not be isolated.
Chris Hipkins, Covid-19 Response Minister said that arrivals from tiny Pacific island countries would be exempted from quarantine beginning next month. Other low risk countries would be considered in the early part of next year.
Sir John Key, former Prime Minster of New Zealand, said in September that New Zealand has become a “smug hermit Kingdom” and that travel restrictions should not be lifted.
New Zealand has had only 28 Covid-19-related deaths out of a population that is five million. Its residents have lived in near normal homes for most of this pandemic.
But the border facilities are getting more difficult. Tens of thousand of overseas-based New Zealanders are now clamouring online to reserve the 4,000 available quarantine areas.
Some New Zealanders have attempted to cross Australia’s Tasman Sea in small boats, in an attempt to reach their homeland.
After unsuccessfully securing a quarantine room in a hotel, boats packed with people have set sail from Australia in recent days.
Hipkins stated that the changes would open up more rooms, and that the goal was for Hipkins to make the transition to home isolation within three months of 2022.
Mr Hipkins stated that the changes would free approximately 1500 places, but many will be used for community cases in NZ’s worsening Delta epidemic.
Health officials identified 89 cases in the community on Thursday, including two in Christchurch. This ended a 358-day absence of the virus in the largest city in the South Island.
The New Zealand government decided not to lock down the city, with Mr Hipkins stating that there were no major exposure events.
He said that close contacts were identified and are self isolating. He promised to continue to closely monitor the situation.
The border served as a buffer against New Zealand’s viral response. However, a Delta-variant virus outbreak in Auckland has caused new cases to emerge in the community.
He said that the decision on whether the home isolation regime would apply to only returning New Zealanders or include foreigners was still being made.
“We don’t want to accelerate Covid-19’s spread beyond Auckland by making changes to our international border too early.
He said, “Once we get those high vaccination rates, at that point you’ll begin to see quite some change at the border.”
Hipkins linked more movement with NZ hitting 90 per cent eligibility for fully vaccinated Kiwis.
On Thursday, 72% of New Zealanders were fully vaccinated. 87 percent had their first jab.
New Zealand has yet to offer any guarantees for Australians who wish to travel quarantine-free before Christmas. Pictured: A passenger on a Trans-Tasman flight, April 2021.
Hipkins also announced that arrivals from small Pacific island states would be allowed to travel without quarantine starting next month, and other low-risk countries would likely be considered for early next year.
Tokelau, Vanuatu, Samoa and Vanuatu would be exempted from quarantine starting November 8, in line with existing arrangements with Niue and Cook Islands.
He stated that the New Zealand border had been the mainstay of New Zealand’s viral response, but that a Delta-variant epidemic in Auckland meant that most new cases were now occurring in the community.
He didn’t clarify whether the travel bubble with Australia might reopen.
The bubble was created in April but was disrupted numerous times and was eventually suspended in June when multiple outbreaks occurred in Australia.
Australians can fly to New Zealand, but they will need to spend a week in quarantine at the hotel and three days in isolation at home.