New Zealand Outlines COVID-19 Plan to Reconnect with World
By Phil Mercer August 13, 2021
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said her government will continue to pursue its ambitious COVID-19 elimination strategy indefinitely. On Thursday, she outlined a cautious and staged approach to reopening the country's borders to some foreign travelers early next year.
New Zealand, which has some of the toughest COVID-19 controls in the world, closed its borders to most foreign nationals in March of last year. The closure is part of a strategy to eliminate the virus that also includes strict lockdowns and mandatory hotel quarantine for New Zealanders returning from overseas.
The borders will remain closed for the rest of this year, and their reopening depends on the success of New Zealand's vaccination rollout. The government said this would represent a shift from the "collective armor" of travel restrictions to the "individual armor" of inoculations.
No timetable has been set, but it is likely that next year, vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries -- those considered to have COVID-19 under control -- will not have to go into hotel quarantine in New Zealand. Unvaccinated travelers and all visitors from high-risk countries would face a mandatory 14-day hotel isolation.
Ardern said it's a cautious approach.
"We cannot keep borders restrictions on forever, and to be absolutely clear, we do not want to do that, and neither do the experts we talk to," she said. "Border closures were only ever a temporary measure in order to keep COVID out before vaccine was developed and administered. So long as the scientific evidence shows we can safely transition from a border defense to the individual armor of the vaccine, then that is the direction we will go."
Later this year New Zealand will test home isolation or shorter stays in hotel quarantine for selected travelers, including workers sent overseas by local businesses.
The national vaccination program will also be accelerated, with everyone ages 16 or over eligible for their first vaccine dose starting Sept. 1.
About 20% of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated.
The South Pacific nation has recorded about 3,000 coronavirus cases and 26 deaths since the pandemic began.
A quarantine-free travel corridor with Australia, which opened in April, has been suspended because of delta variant outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne.
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