Jacinda Ardern has begun reopening New Zealand to travellers by halving the nation’s quarantine requirements and removing them entirely for a select few countries.
Ms Ardern, 41, is taking baby steps towards reconnecting NZ with the world – cutting down quarantine from 14 days to seven – but is giving no guarantees to trans-Tasman families hoping to reunite for Christmas.
On Thursday, Ms Ardern’s COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said the shortened hotel quarantine period for those double-vaccinated will start from November 14, though arrivals will have to isolate at home for another three days.
NZ will also allow travellers from low-risk countries – Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Tokelau – to bypass hotel quarantine altogether from November 8.
Australia is not on the quarantine-free list, despite those from low-risk states able to visit NZ freely for several months earlier this year under the trans-Tasman bubble.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (pictured) is slowly reopening the country to international visitors by reducing quarantine requirements
Mr Hipkins said residents from the high-risk states of NSW and Victoria are now able to travel around Australia, which made another trans-Tasman bubble an unacceptable risk.
‘The challenge with Australia is they are going through the process of opening up their internal borders,’ he said.
‘Of course we want to reconnect with Australia soon, as soon as we can do that safely. We’re just not in a position to provide any certainty as to when that can happen at this point.’
Former NZ Prime Minister Sir John Key in September said New Zealand had become ‘a smug hermit kingdom’ and travel restrictions should be lifted as priority.
Mr Hipkins said he understood the plight of overseas-based Kiwis.
‘We’re very aware of the pressure that’s been building the border as the world begins to reconnect and increasing numbers of New Zealanders, here and abroad, that want to be able to reconnect with their loved ones,’ Mr Hipkins said.
‘We don’t want to accelerate the spread of COVID-19 outside Auckland by prematurely making changes to the international border.
‘Once we get those high rates of vaccination, at that point, you’ll start to see quite a bit more change at the border.’
Mr Hipkins tied more movement to when NZ hits 90 per cent of eligible Kiwis being fully vaccinated.
As of Thursday, 72 per cent of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated and 87 per cent have received their first jab.
Australians hoping to travel quarantine-free by Christmas haven’t been offered any guarantees by the New Zealand government yet (pictured: a passenger on a Trans-Tasman flight in April 2021)
Overseas-based New Zealanders will also find some relief from the changes.
Tens of thousands of Kiwis are attempting to return home without success, missing out on places in hotel quarantine ballots.
Mr Hipkins said the changes would free up about 1500 places, but ‘many will be used for community cases’ in NZ’s worsening Delta outbreak.
There were 89 community cases identified by health officials on Thursday, including two in Christchurch, ending a 358-day run without the virus for the South Island’s biggest city.
The New Zealand government has opted against sending the city into lockdown, with Mr Hipkins saying there were ‘no major exposure events’.
‘Close contacts have been identified and are self-isolating … we’ll continue to closely monitor the situation,’ he said.
Australians are able to fly to New Zealand but they will need to spend one week in hotel quarantine and another three days in self-isolation at home