The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, gave a speech Thursday outlining the pathway to reopening the country to quarantine free travel from the first quarter of 2022.
The country will speed up the vaccination rates that are relatively low for a western nation at the moment and will run a pilot with vaccinated New Zealanders that return to the country and who will self-isolate instead of spending time at government-mandated facilities for an extended period of time.
You can access New Zealand’s page for travel restrictions here.
The country, however, will continue with its Covid-19 elimination strategy that is close to impossible to achieve if the border entries are relaxed and the Delta variant gets to spread (you’ll end up with lockdowns that have taken place in Australia).
Here’s the announcement from the Prime Minister:
Government sets out plan to reconnect New Zealanders to the world
- Vaccination rollout will speed up, with all eligible ages able to book in their vaccine by 1 September
- Move to 6 weeks between doses to ensure more NZers at least partially vaccinated as soon as possible in face of Delta risk
- Phased approach to reopening border with self-isolation pilot this year and set up of new testing and vaccine checking systems at border
- From the first quarter of 2022 move to new individual risk based border settings that will establish low, medium and high risk pathways into the country
- Elimination retained as best strategy to keep COVID out and economy open
The Government will use the second half of 2021 to vaccinate as many New Zealanders as possible and safely conduct a self-isolation trial for vaccinated New Zealanders in order to prepare for a phased resumption of quarantine-free travel, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today.
The Government’s framework for re-opening borders and moving to an individualised risk-based model for quarantine-free travel was unveiled at a forum on Reconnecting New Zealanders to the World in Wellington today. The release of the plan followed the publication of Sir David Skegg’s Strategic COVID-19 Public Health Advisory Group’s advice to Government on Wednesday.
“Getting vaccinated is the number one thing everyone can do to be protected against COVID-19, help accelerate our economic recovery, reduce the risk of lockdowns, and safely allow New Zealand’s borders to begin re-opening next year,” Jacinda Ardern said.
“The plan announced today is informed by the best available scientific evidence and public health advice. It will allow us to capture the opportunities vaccination brings, while protecting the gains New Zealanders have worked so hard for.
“Key to this is maintaining our Elimination Strategy. The advice is clear: If we open our borders now we will lose the freedoms and advantages we have achieved so far.
“If we give up our elimination approach too soon there is no going back, and we could see significant breakouts here like some countries overseas are experiencing who have opened up early in their vaccination rollout.
“Therefore the first step in our plan is speeding up the vaccination process to ensure everyone is at least partially vaccinated as soon as possible to reduce the risk and impact of Delta entering the country.
“From today we are moving to a six week period between doses, meaning more people can get their first dose quicker and ensuring everyone is at least partially vaccinated in the coming months. Those who work at our border, have underlying health conditions or wish to be fully vaccinated sooner can still get their second dose after three weeks.
“We are also bringing forward the eligibility dates for the remaining groups. As already announced 50 plus will be open from Friday 13th August, 40 plus will be open on Wednesday 18th August, 30 plus will be open on Wednesday 25th August and from 1 September we will be open for all eligible ages.
“Once enough people are vaccinated, we will be able to start the next step in the plan: a phased introduction of an individual risk-based approach to border settings in 2022.
“Low-Risk, Medium-Risk and High-Risk travel pathways will be created, and which pathway a traveller takes will be based on the risk associated with where they are coming from and their vaccination status.
“Each pathway will have testing and isolation requirements proportionate to that risk.
“The Low-Risk pathway will permit quarantine free entry for vaccinated travellers who have been in low risk countries.
“The Medium-Risk pathway would include a combination of self-isolation and/or reduced MIQ for vaccinated travellers who have been in medium risk countries.
“To prepare for the Medium-Risk pathway the Government will run a self-isolation pilot in the second half of this year to test processes and systems for the safe use of this tool.
“Businesses and organisations that need to send staff overseas will be invited to express interest in participating in the pilot which will run between October and December 2021.
“The High-Risk pathway will see the continuation of a full 14 days in MIQ and testing for unvaccinated travellers and any traveller, including vaccinated travellers, who have been in very high risk or high risk countries.
“This individual risk based approach requires new systems to be set up. We will use the remainder of 2021 to continue to prepare for the operation of borders under this system.
“This work includes ongoing work on the development of a traveller health declaration system, investigating new testing technology for rapid testing on arrival at airports and reliable pre-departure testing as well as piloting self-isolation arrangements for some New Zealanders and strengthening other public health measures such as contact tracing.
“New Zealand remains in a strong position. We don’t have COVID in the community and our economy is more open than most.
“Our plan to reopen our borders both protects the gains we have won, while setting us up to safely reconnect New Zealanders and business with the world and seize the opportunities created by our COVID success,” Jacinda Ardern said.
Suppose New Zealand’s strategy is to eradicate Covid-19. In that case, there will be a minimal number of low-risk pathways to the country that could be quarantine free, considering how the on/off trans-Tasman Travel Bubble has performed (not!). Therefore, it is more interesting to see how the medium-risk one will work with self-isolation.
Their intention is good, albeit almost naive, because it is challenging to keep the Covid-19 eradicated if you allow international arrivals without mandatory quarantine.
It seems that the best countries can do is to get their population vaccinated and then allow travel without quarantine for those who are fully vaccinated.
There will be coronaviruses and variants circulating in the population, but the majority affected will be those who have decided to forgo the vaccination.