New Zealand begins reopening to citizens after 2 years

Sydney, Australia, Feb 28 (EFE).- New Zealand, which has implemented some of the toughest anti-Covid policies in the world, began reopening its borders on Monday to allow the return of its citizens.

Since March 2020, the country’s international borders have been largely sealed shut, including to most citizens. Outside of the strict granting of entry for emergencies, overseas New Zealanders wishing to return home have had to enter a virtual lottery system to win a room in a government-run quarantine center, for which demand far outstripped supply.

From Monday, fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens and permanent residents arriving from Australia are able to enter the country without having to undergo strict quarantine periods.

Until Wednesday, arrivals must undergo seven days of home isolation and present two negative antigen tests.

However, from Thursday, incoming travelers will no longer be required to isolate, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday, as the first quarantine-free flights arrived from Australia.

In addition, Ardern said that the government will accelerate its border reopening plan so that, starting Saturday – brought forward from the scheduled Mar. 13 – any fully vaccinated New Zealand citizen or resident from the rest of the world can also return.

The original five-step plan announced at the beginning of the month had also scheduled the reopening of borders to tourists by October, however Ardern said they would be allowed in after the current Omicron surge had peaked.

Unvaccinated travelers will still need to enter a quarantine hotel.

Until now, New Zealand has avoided major Covid outbreaks. However, due to a surge in community Omicron cases and a home isolation policy — instead of a quarantine hotel period for positive cases — authorities agreed to relax restrictions for fully vaccinated, negative-testing incoming citizens.

The seven-day average for border Covid cases at the weekend was 9.4, compared with a seven-day average of around 6,700 for cases in the community, the government said in a statement Monday.

“Now that we are two years into the Covid-19 pandemic the risk has shifted from our border to our community,” Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.

The reopening of New Zealand, which once imposed lockdowns over a single case of Covid-19, occurs as the country battles its first a major Covid outbreak and amid a weeks-long protest by anti-vaccine mandate groups outside parliament in Wellington.

New Zealand has recorded 82,400 infections (14,633 on Monday), with 56 deaths, since the start of the pandemic and has managed to fully vaccinate 94 percent of the target population, according to official data. EFE


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