In the hope of luring more tourists, New Zealand is ditching a requirement for travellers to produce a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in the country.
On Thursday, COVID-19 Minister Ayesha Verrall announced New Zealand’s pre-departure testing regime would be axed for all arrivals as of Tuesday, June 21.
Unvaccinated travellers will also be able to enter New Zealand without quarantining for the first time since the pandemic began.
The government’s shift comes ahead of the opening weekend of the NZ ski season, with lifts turning at South Island resorts following a large snow dump last week.
The move follows a similar shift from Australia in April, and the US earlier this month.
Tourism figures have welcomed the move, suggesting tourists were choosing to travel to places, like Australia, which do not have pre-departure testing, which can be costly and logistically challenging.
Dr Verrall said the government believed “the challenges pre-departure tests pose to visitors are now no longer outweighed by the public health benefits”.
“Factors such as the availability of and cost of getting a test are increasingly becoming a barrier for people intending to travel here, especially as other countries wind back testing availability or the requirement for a test on entry themselves,” she said.
International arrivals will still need to complete two rapid antigen tests after landing in New Zealand as the government tracks variants.
Dr Verrall said post-arrival testing was producing a 2-3 per cent positivity rate.
The shift cements a major policy shift from Jacinda Ardern’s government, which was once the most health-focussed country in the developed world.
New Zealand relentlessly chased an elimination strategy earlier in the pandemic, locking out COVID-19 for much of the first two years.
However, the arrival of the Omicron variant earlier this year proved a game-changer, with New Zealand gradually relenting on many measures such as mandatory quarantine, contact tracing and vaccine mandates.
Mask mandates remain for many indoor settings in New Zealand, including public transport and retail.
COVID-19 cases in New Zealand remain doggedly high but on the decrease.
The seven-day rolling average of cases is at 5777, down from 6035 last week, and well down from the peak of more than 20,000 daily cases experienced in March.
On Wednesday, there were 11 COVID-related deaths, with a seven-day rolling average is 13.
At the start of the year, New Zealand had suffered roughly 50 COVID-related deaths during the entire pandemic.
That death toll now stands at 1359.
Dr Verrall said New Zealand was ready to relax the pre-departure testing requirement ahead of a planned July 31 shift.
“We’ve taken a careful and staged approach to reopening our borders to ensure we aren’t overwhelmed with an influx of COVID-19 cases,” she said.
“Our strategy has worked and as a result it’s safe to lift pre-departure test requirements much sooner than planned.”