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(CNN) – New Zealand will allow fully vaccinated international travelers to enter the country from next year, in a gradual easing of its strict border restrictions that have been in place for more than 18 months to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Fully vaccinated citizens, residents and tourists will be able to enter the country in three phases, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told a news conference on Wednesday (November 24th).
The border will first open to New Zealand citizens and residents traveling from neighboring Australia on 16 January, before expanding to include New Zealanders in the rest of the world on 13 February.
Fully vaccinated visitors from all other countries except those considered “high risk” can visit the Pacific island nation as of April 30, Hipkins said.
“A gradual approach to reconnecting with the world is the safest approach to ensuring that risk is carefully managed,” he added. “Reduces potential impacts on vulnerable communities and the New Zealand healthcare system.”
New Zealand closed its borders in March 2020 as part of its push to eliminate Covid-19 and has some of the strictest border measures in the world.
The early blockade largely kept infections at bay, apart from an outbreak in the Delta in August, after which the numbers briefly increased.
The country has recorded more than 10,600 cases and only 40 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But relatively low figures have come at a cost.
Currently, those who want to return must be quarantined in government facilities, which have limited places. People have had to join an online lottery to try to secure a space.
This will change when the new rules come into force.
Anyone coming to New Zealand will have to isolate themselves at home for seven days, show a vaccination test, a negative Covid-19 test and declare that they have not been to a high-risk country, Hipkins said.
According to the country’s Ministry of Health, 84% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, while 92% have received at least one dose.
Hipkins said some restrictions would be maintained in the foreseeable future.
“We will finally get to a point where people will be able to move much more freely across the border and these periods of self-isolation will not be necessary,” he said. “We’re not at this point yet.”
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