Fully vaccinated citizens, residents and tourists will be allowed to enter the country in three phases, COVID-19 response minister Chris Hipkins explained during a news conference on Wednesday, November 24.
The border will first open to New Zealand citizens and residents traveling from neighboring Australia on 16 January, then expand to include New Zealanders from the rest of the world on 13 February.
Hipkins said that except for those deemed “high risk”, fully vaccinated visitors from all other countries can visit the Pacific island nation from April 30.
“A phased approach to reconnecting with the world is the safest way to carefully manage risk,” he said. “This minimizes the potential impacts on vulnerable communities and the New Zealand health system.”
New Zealand closed its borders in March 2020 to stamp out COVID-19, and has some of the strictest border measures in the world.
The country has recorded more than 10,600 cases and just 40 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But the comparatively low numbers have come at a cost.
Currently, those who want to return will have to be quarantined in government-run facilities, which have limited spaces. People have had to join an online lottery to secure a spot.
This will change when the new rules come into force.
Hipkins said everyone arriving in New Zealand must isolate at home for seven days, show proof of vaccination, have a negative COVID-19 test and declare that they are not in a high-risk country.
According to the country’s health ministry, 84% of the eligible population have been fully vaccinated, while 92% have received at least one dose.
Hipkins said some restrictions would remain in place for the foreseeable future.
“We will eventually get to the point where people will be able to move more freely across the border and those periods of self-isolation will not be needed,” he said. “We’re not at that point yet.”