The New Zealand government announced Thursday that it plans to gradually open its borders to international travelers after eliminating the Coronavirus.
Additionally, officials are delaying the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine in order to speed up first shots to protect as many people as possible from the threat posed by the delta variant.
The eradication of the Coronavirus in New Zealand has virtually restored normality to the country. The South Pacific nation of 5 million people has reported just 26 deaths since this pandemic started.
The country has achieved this in part by closing its borders to people who aren’t residents or citizens.
Nonetheless, many have questioned whether New Zealand’s zero-tolerance policy will remain viable once international travel resumes.
In response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government would heed the advice of experts and keep the elimination policy.
“While the pandemic continues to rage overseas, and the virus continues to change and mutate, the best thing we can do is lock in the gains achieved to date while keeping our options open,” she said.
She said the borders would only reopen after New Zealand completed its vaccine rollout at the end of the year. The rollout has been much slower than in most developed nations, although is beginning to accelerate.
Ardern said that from the first quarter of next year, the country would begin allowing travelers to arrive on a carefully managed basis.
It will not be necessary for travelers from countries with low-risk to quarantine, she said. Those arriving from medium-risk countries would be subject to some sort of quarantine. And those arriving from high-risk countries and those without vaccination would have to spend 14 days in a quarantine hotel run by the military, Ardern said.
The government did not provide a ranking of countries by risk, saying it could change quickly.
Ardern said a new trial would begin in October that would allow some business travelers to quarantine at home rather than in military-run hotels as a test of the new system it planned to introduce for medium-risk countries next year.
Adern also announced that the standard schedule for vaccine doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be increased from three weeks to six weeks. She said the initial groups targeted for the vaccine — border workers and older people — had already been fully vaccinated.
“From a population basis, it makes sense to get as many New Zealanders at least partially vaccinated quickly,” Ardern said.
The changes were generally welcomed by business owners, including those in the struggling tourism industry. Before the pandemic, more than 3 million overseas travelers visited New Zealand each year and tourism was among the country’s largest industries.
According to Chris Roberts, Tourism Industry Aotearoa’s chief executive, it is crucial that businesses have a roadmap in place so they can plan ahead and make informed decisions.
Opposition Leader Judith Collins said that Ardern’s announcements were a step in the right direction, but she called for more rapid vaccinations.
In New Zealand, approximately 29% of the population has received one dose of the vaccine, while 17% has been fully vaccinated.