New Zealand eases quarantine rules for inbound travelers
The New Zealand government has announced that it will begin ending quarantine requirements for incoming travelers and reopening its borders.
Since the start of the pandemic, New Zealand has implemented some of the strictest border controls in the world.
Most incoming travelers must spend 10 days in a quarantined hotel room run by the military, a requirement that has created a bottleneck at the border.
The measures were initially credited with saving thousands of lives and enabling New Zealand to eliminate or control several coronavirus outbreaks.
But, increasingly, border controls are seen as out of step in a world where the virus is becoming endemic and in a country where the Omicron variant is already spreading.
The bottleneck has forced many New Zealanders abroad to enter a lottery-like system to try to secure a place in quarantine and return home.
The shortcomings of the system were highlighted last week by pregnant New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis, who found herself stranded in Afghanistan after New Zealand authorities initially rejected her request to return home to give birth.
After international publicity, authorities backed off and offered her a place in quarantine, which she accepted.
Border changes mean that vaccinated New Zealanders returning from Australia will no longer need to self-quarantine from the end of this month, and vaccinated New Zealanders returning from the rest of the world will be able to skip quarantine from mid-March here. They will still be required to self-isolate at home.
However, most tourists will have to wait until October before they can enter the country without a quarantine stay. And anyone not vaccinated will still have to go through quarantine.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she knew many people associated border checks with heartache, but undeniably saved lives.
“There is no doubt that for New Zealand this has been one of the most difficult parts of the pandemic,” she said. “But the reason it’s up there as one of the toughest things we’ve been through is, in part, because the large-scale loss of life isn’t.”
She said the checks “meant that not everyone could go home whenever they wanted. But that also meant Covid couldn’t come in when he wanted either.”
Ms Ardern said the restrictions had allowed New Zealand to strengthen its defenses against the virus by achieving high levels of vaccination while keeping the economy running smoothly.
About 77% of New Zealanders are fully immunized, according to Our World in Data. This rises to 93% among people aged 12 and over, according to health officials.
New Zealand has reported just 53 virus deaths among its population of 5 million.
New Zealand’s economy quickly returned to growth after a pandemic plunge, and unemployment fell to 3.2% in the last quarter, the lowest level since records began in 1986.
But the government has also increased its borrowing sharply and house prices have soared.
Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon said the reopening of the border was welcome news and his National Party had long called on the government to “end the lottery of human misery”.
Ms Ardern said it was a first step towards normality.
“There was life before, and now life with Covid, but that also means there will also be a life after Covid, a life where we have adapted, where we have found some normality and where time can again take its rightful place as our main topic of conversation,” Ms. Ardern said.
“We are on the right track to reach this destination. We’re just not there yet.
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