Vaccinated backpackers and some skilled workers will be allowed into the country beginning March 13, while New Zealand will allow up to 5,000 international students to enter from April 12. Travellers will have to self-isolate at home for 10 days instead of staying at state isolation facilities, Ardern said.
Tourists from Australia and other visa-free countries, however, will not be allowed to enter until July and travellers from the rest of the world will be kept out until October under the plan.
“Opening back up in this managed way balances inflows of travellers so people can reunite and fill our workforce shortages, while also ensuring our healthcare system can manage an increase in cases,” Ardern said in a speech in Auckland, where she announced the plans.
“Our strategy with Omicron is to slow the spread, and our borders are part of that,” she added, referring to the highly contagious variant of the virus currently dominant around the world.
New Zealand has had some of the toughest border controls in the world for the last two years, as the government tried to keep the coronavirus out.
Foreigners were banned from entering, and citizens looking to return had to either make emergency requests to the government or secure a spot in state quarantine facilities, called MIQ, through a website, a process that critics have called an unfair, lottery-style system.
The policies have been mostly successful. A country of five million people, New Zealand has had about 17,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases so far and just 53 deaths.
Ardern said Australian tourists and travellers from other visa-free countries can travel to New Zealand again by July. In October, normal visa processing will resume and all other visitors and students who require a visa can enter.
–Editing by Leslie Adler and Bill Berkrot
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