Covid 19 Omicron: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces border re-opening dates for tourists and other travellers

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced new dates to open up our borders.

Australians will be able to come to New Zealand without isolating from 11.59pm April 12.

Fully vaccinated travellers from visa-waiver countries will be able to enter the country from 11.59pm on May 2.

Ardern said the border was already open to New Zealanders – and on Monday eligible critical workers were allowed in without isolating.

For people from outside visa waiver countries, the major issue was how to process new visas in a timely way, Ardern said.

The PM said the Government wanted to clearly signal New Zealand was keen to supercharge its economic recovery.

“We can plan with greater certainty…In short, we’re ready to welcome the world back.”

The PM said New Zealand was a safe place to visit.

Ardern said trans-Tasman travellers were crucial to the domestic tourism sector.

“They will be able to arrive in time for the Australian school holidays.”

Those travellers will also help boost the ski season, Ardern said.

Visitor numbers would be lower than in 2019 and travellers would need to return negative rapid antigen test results.

Ardern said she knew from speaking to tourism operators how tough the past two years had been.

“Thank you for the hard yards you did for all of us.”

Ardern said a critical element of the plan was reuniting visitors with regional economies.

The PM said she would focus, during her international engagements, on promoting New Zealand’s major exporters.

“We know Covid is still with us and will be with us for some time,” Ardern added.

But she said New Zealand could now start a new chapter.

“We will be a sought-after market.”

Ardern said announcements about vaccine mandates and passes will be made next week.

She indicated vaccine passes would be less justified after the Omicron peak.

Ardern said the Government already indicated rules around vaccine passes and the traffic light system would be reviewed.

Ardern made the announcement with Tourism Minister Stuart Nash, who is appearing by Zoom – Nash is isolating because some household members have Covid-19.

“This is the most exciting moment [in the] tourism sector for the last two years,” Nash said.

Nash said the ski season would commence in June, and traditionally, about 70 per cent of foreign ski tourists were Australians.

The announcement sees a significant change to the plan set out earlier this year, which were for vaccinated travellers from Australia and visa-waiver countries to come in by July, and those from the rest of the world from October.

New Zealanders returning from overseas are already able to return without isolating, provided they test negative, but the new dates will see the start of tourism and business travel again.

Ardern had said in February that the re-opening dates would be brought forward if it was viable – and that would depend on when the Omicron outbreak peaked.

Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins is also making an announcement on rapid antigen tests in schools today – he will not be holding a press conference because he has tested positive this morning, on his seventh day of isolating as a household contact – he must now isolate for a further seven days.

Opposition parties have questioned whether the government is ready for the re-opening, saying lingering Covid restrictions could dampen enthusiasm to travel here.

Act Party leader David Seymour said the remaining rules would be impossible to enforce with tourists.

“Vaccine passes, isolation, importing Rapid Antigen Tests, and QR codes will look quaint to people from countries that have already moved on, and trying to enforce them will only show how nonsensical our own rules are.

“We will now have a situation where a tourist with a negative test is free to get the first taxi out of Auckland Airport, but a household contact has to isolate for seven days. Opening the border makes our isolation rules look stupid, because they are.”

However, tourism operators are hoping the decision will see tourists flocking back for the winter holidays.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa communications manager Ann-Marie Johnson said the best hope would be able to welcome Australians back for the April school holidays which fell over Easter and the upcoming ski season.

She told AM there would be a “trickle at the start” and she didn’t expect to see any significant visitors from the rest of the world until next summer, but the announcement would at least allow people to be able to start making plans now.

Some operators may not re-open or may have lost some employees to other industries, but she hoped they would also see the new opportunities awaiting.

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