Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recognises opening New Zealand to the world will not be the same as life before the Covid-19 pandemic arrived on our shores. Over time, it will take a bit of getting used to as part of the new normal.
To achieve normality, critical steps will be or have been taken to build a defense based on becoming one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, utilising measures of public health safety, boosting adults and vaccinating children.
One of the key roles in the reopening of the country is to keep the economy running smooth and strong without hiccups. This includes keeping unemployment rates at a low of about 3.2 percent, while returning growth to pre-Covid levels three years ahead of forecast.
Reducing the national debt is a debateable aspect to recovery. International Monetary Fund measures show just 24.1 percent in 2024, compared to Australia at over 44 percent.
“Today I want to talk about the next set of changes that will take us a long way on that journey back to a new normal, and that is our reconnection with the world,” Ardern said.
“I can vividly remember the early days of the Covid pandemic. I recall the emergency cabinet meeting where we discussed the very first border closure – which in the first stages was country by country.”
“I remember the moment we decided to require every traveller to self-isolate. I remember the cases that arose from people who then didn’t self-isolate. And I remember the establishment of our managed isolation and quarantine system on the tenth of April almost two years ago. There is no question that for New Zealand, it has been one of the hardest parts of the pandemic.”
She added it was one of the “toughest things we have experienced, is in part because large-scale loss of life is not” in relation to the managed isolation and quarantine system, which was described as heartbreaking.
Image: Government Newswire - Ministry of Health
Before the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus arrived into the country, the government was in the process of moving to a self-isolation for returning New Zealanders approach, which was going to be trialed with travelers to and from Australia on January 17.
The change was disregarded, and the booster campaign was launched instead in preparation for the next phase to keep the community better protected.
Starting February 27 at 11.59pm new steps will be employed to get the country moving and back on track safely with the rest of the world.
In step one fully vaccinated New Zealanders and eligible travellers from Australia will be able to travel into the country without going through managed isolation and quarantine, and instead will are asked to self-isolate. Two weeks later, under step two, any fully vaccinated New Zealanders and eligible travellers from around the world will be able to travel into the country without managed isolation and quarantine.
“While we will no longer require people to enter managed isolation, at this stage travellers will be asked to follow the same requirements we have for close contacts at the time of their travel. That’s because, as travellers, it is highly likely that they’ll come in contact with the highly transmissible Omicron variant on their journey,” Ardern said.
“[Returnees] will need to self-isolate for ten days. As the isolation period drops for close contacts here, as it does in phase two of our Omicron response, so too will returnees only need to isolate for seven days. All arrivals will be given three rapid antigen tests upon arrival at the airport, to take home. One for use on day 0/1, and one for use on day 5/6, with one extra for backup. That gives us the best chance of identifying cases that have come across the border”.
“We will be as boosted as possible at the end of February, the phasing reduces the risk of a surge in cases, and travellers will be testing and isolating, with managed isolation and quarantine remaining for the unvaccinated. This means we will know quickly if a traveller has the virus including any new variants”.
From March 13 at 11.59pm as part of step two an expanded border exception that will be implemented for critical workers and skilled workers deeming them eligible. Workers earning at least 1.5 times the median wage will be eligible to enter the country. In addition, this includes highly skilled workers’ family members who may have been separated.
“Health workers, farm managers, horticultural workers, tech sector professionals, those working for accounting services, in education and construction, will all be eligible to enter the country, self-isolate for a short period and then go about their business,” Ardern said.
“[This adds to the] more than 17,000 critical workers who have already come to the country since our borders closed.”
Large cohorts of up to 5,000 international students starting from April 12 at 11.59pm will be allowed entry for semester two and temporary visa holders as part of step three. Step four is expected to begin no earlier than July when there are more case numbers in the community, allowing those who can normally enter the country without a visa such as visitors and business travellers.
Step five, starting in October, will include all other visitors and students who require a visa to enter the country.
“Overall, 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. After all, our strategy with Omicron is to slow the spread, and our borders are part of that,” Ardern said.
“As for managed isolation and quarantine, it will continue to be used for high-risk travellers such as those who are unvaccinated.”
The New Zealand Defence Force will gradually start withdrawing, and some hotels used as facilities will be returned to traditional use.
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