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New Zealand on Thursday unveiled plans to temporarily reopen its borders amid mounting pressure from Kiwis stranded abroad by some of the world’s toughest pandemic travel restrictions.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said arrivals from a handful of tiny Pacific island states would be allowed to travel without quarantine starting next month and other low-risk countries would be considered early next year.
Hipkins also said the 14-day hotel quarantine period currently imposed on all overseas arrivals would be reduced to seven days in November and eventually replaced with home isolation.
He said the border previously served as a bulwark for New Zealand’s viral response, but a Delta variant outbreak in Auckland meant most new cases were now emerging in the community.
“We are also very aware of the pressure that is mounting at the border as the world begins to reconnect, and of the growing number of New Zealanders here and abroad who want to connect with their loved ones,” he said. he declares.
New Zealand has recorded just 28 deaths from Covid-19 out of a population of five million, and its people have enjoyed near-normal domestic lives during most of the pandemic.
But border facilities have become increasingly stretched, with tens of thousands of New Zealanders based overseas demanding online to reserve the 4,000 available quarantine rooms.
Local media regularly report Kiwis unable to visit relatives who are dying or facing family crises due to quarantine requirements.
Hipkins said the changes will free up more rooms and the goal is to move to home isolation in the first three months of 2022, once 90% of New Zealand’s population is fully vaccinated.
He said no decision had yet been made on whether the home isolation regime would apply only to returning New Zealanders or would also include foreign travelers.
Opposition Covid spokesman Chris Bishop said the plan represented a “bare minimum,” saying fully vaccinated arrivals from low-risk countries should not have to self-isolate.
“It is time for us to reopen ourselves to the world. We cannot stay locked behind the fortress walls of New Zealand,” he said.
Hipkins said arrivals from Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Tokelau would be without quarantine from November 8, reflecting existing agreements with the Cook Islands and Niue.
He did not provide any details on the likely reopening of a travel bubble with Australia.
The bubble opened in April but faced a lot of disruption and was finally suspended in June as multiple epidemics spread across Australia.
© 2021 AFP