WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand will allow international tourists in stages from mid-April, accelerating its previous cautious plans for reopening that threatened to choke a crucial part of the economy for a third year.
The decisions announced Wednesday are a boost for thousands of small businesses and corporations such as Auckland International Airport Ltd.
Air New Zealand Ltd.
and casino operator Skycity Entertainment Ltd.
that have laid off staff and suffered financial losses during the pandemic.
Visitors from neighboring Australia will be allowed from mid-April and from about 60 visa-waiver countries such as the U.S., South Korea and Germany from the beginning of May, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. The government plans announcements next week about ending requirements such as vaccination passes for restaurants, she said.
New Zealand’s border closure, in place since March 2020, has increasingly become a relic of the earlier stages of the pandemic when the government said it wanted to eliminate Covid-19 and the country had months-long periods of zero cases.
The milder omicron variant of the virus has spread rapidly in New Zealand since February and cases have recently exceeded 20,000 a day. A high vaccination rate–about 95% of people aged 12 and over–has so far kept serious illness and deaths at a manageable level for hospitals.
Previously, the government had planned to allow visitors from Australia and visa-waiver nations to enter from July and visitors from any country from October. Australia was about 40% of visitors to New Zealand before COVID-19.
The October date for non-visa waiver countries such as India and China hasn’t changed, but will be reconsidered, Ardern said.
Since the beginning of March, New Zealand has allowed New Zealanders in Australia to return without entering two week state-run quarantine, which recently broadened to New Zealanders anywhere in the world. It had also dropped an unpopular requirement for travelers to isolate for days after arrival.