New Zealand delays plans to reopen borders amid Omicron fears

A loosening of restrictions has been pushed back to the end of February

New Zealand has postponed plans for a phased reopening of its borders until 2022. Photo: Dan Freeman / Unsplash
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New Zealand has postponed plans for a phased reopening of its borders amid concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant.

The country had implemented some of the world’s toughest border controls in the wake of the pandemic, but had planned to start progressively loosening restrictions from January.

Non-quarantine travel for New Zealanders in Australia was due to begin from January 16, but this has been pushed back to the end of February. Authorities had also planned to start allowing vaccinated international tourists into the country from April.

Quote
We are doing everything we can to make sure we are prepared
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Prime Minister

"All of the evidence so far points to Omicron being the most transmissible Covid-19 variant yet,” said the country's Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. "There's no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it's important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans."

The length of stay in state quarantine facilities has also been increased from one week to 10 days. New Zealand’s border has been shut to foreigners since March 2020, but citizens and permanent residents have been able to return, provided they underwent self-isolation. This option has now been removed, with all arrivals having to stay in government-run hotels.

In addition, the pre-departure test requirement to enter New Zealand has been reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours before travel. To curb the spread of the Omicron variant, New Zealand is also shortening the interval between vaccine booster shots to four months, from six.

In response to these new measures, Air New Zealand has cancelled more than 100 flights until the end of February, affecting about 27,000 passengers.

The Omicron variant was first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong and has spread to at least 89 countries.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it is not a “case of if but when” the variant would spread in New Zealand. “It's so easily spread. So we are doing everything we can to make sure we are prepared," she said on Facebook Live.

Updated: December 21, 2021, 6:45 AM