New Zealand on Thursday announced a phased reopening of its border that has been largely closed for two years, but the travel and airline industry said much more was needed to revive the Pacific island nation’s struggling tourism sector.
Vaccinated New Zealanders in Australia can travel home from Feb. 27 without requiring to isolate at state quarantine facilities, while New Zealand citizens in the rest of the world will be able to do so two weeks later, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
Foreign vaccinated backpackers and some skilled workers will be allowed into the country beginning March 13, while New Zealand will allow up to 5,000 international students to enter from April 12.
But all travellers would still have to self-isolate for 10 days, Ardern said.
Tourists from Australia and other visa-free countries will not be allowed to enter until July and travellers from the rest of the world will be kept out until October under the plan, which will also require them to self-isolate on arrival.
Ardern said opening borders in a managed way would allow people to reunite and help fill workforce shortages while ensuring the healthcare system could manage an increase in cases.
“Our strategy with Omicron is to slow the spread, and our borders are part of that,” she said, referring to the highly contagious variant of the virus currently dominant around the world.
Fortress New Zealand
New Zealand has had some of the toughest border controls in the world for the last two years, as the government tried to keep the coronavirus out.
Foreigners were banned from entering, and citizens looking to return had to either make emergency requests to the government or secure a spot in state quarantine facilities, called MIQ, through a website. Critics have called the process an unfair, lottery-style system.
The policies have been mostly successful. A country of five million people, New Zealand has had about 17,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases so far and just 53 deaths.
The self-isolation requirement will prevent any meaningful recovery in tourism demand, said New Zealand Airports Association Chief Executive Kevin Ward.
“People do not want to fly to New Zealand if they have to spend their first week sitting in a hotel,” he said.
His industry association said analysis by Auckland Airport showed demand from Australia’s visitor market is estimated at just 7% of 2019 levels if the self-isolation requirement remains in place.
A spokesperson for Australian travel agent Flight Centre said the isolation requirement would be a “dealbreaker” for the vast majority of potential travellers.
Ardern said the government will be reviewing the self-isolation requirements.
“It will be a much more meaningful reopening for tourists if they are able to enter with lesser self isolation,” she told reporters.