Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the changes would be "careful and deliberate" to avoid allowing variants such as the highly contagious Delta strain into New Zealand, where there is no local transmission and domestic life is close to normal.
NEW Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today (August 12) that strict border controls would remain this year but she hoped to cautiously reopen to the rest of the world in 2022 while maintaining the country's virus-free status.
She said the changes would be "careful and deliberate" to avoid allowing variants such as the highly contagious Delta strain into New Zealand, where there is no local transmission and domestic life is close to normal.
"Rushing could see us in the situation many other countries are finding themselves in," she said, citing an outbreak of the Delta variant in neighboring Australia that has forced its two largest cities into renewed lockdown, Reuters said.
Ardern won widespread praise for her decisive early response to the pandemic, resulting in just 26 deaths in a population of five million.
But New Zealand's vaccine rollout has been less stellar, with under 20 percent of the population fully inoculated.
The center-left leader has faced calls to ease border measures from sectors such as healthcare, hospitality and agriculture, which are facing acute labor shortages due to the absence of foreign workers.
Ardern said vaccinations would ramp up with the goal of offering jabs to all the eligible population by year's end, allowing a relaxation of border policies.
Under the proposed changes, international arrivals would be assessed on vaccination status and whether they have travelled from a country deemed high, medium, or low risk.
They could face the full two-week quarantine, a shorter period of isolation, home isolation or quarantine-free entry if they are vaccinated and come from a low-risk country.
"Our ultimate goal is to get to quarantine-free travel for all vaccinated travelers," Ardern said, without providing a timetable.
She said international travel would never be the same as it was before the pandemic.
"Vaccines, border testing and maybe a bit of monitoring of symptoms when you travel will eventually become our baseline. And we will get used to it," she said.
New Zealand's tentative attempts to relax border controls have so far met with mixed success.
A travel bubble with Australia faced numerous disruptions and was finally suspended in June as multiple outbreaks spread across the Tasman Sea.
Quarantine-free travel is allowed with the tiny Cook Islands, and New Zealand this month launched a scheme to bring in seasonal workers from Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu without having to self-isolate.
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.
Tags: #NewZealand, #Covid19, #reopening, #economy