News Coronavirus New Zealand to hasten border reopening
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New Zealand to hasten border reopening

Source: New Zealand Tourism

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A serious softening of New Zealand’s borders is on the way, and soon.

On Monday morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told TVNZ an announcement would be made this week for a new reopening schedule that will end most COVID-19 border restrictions.

“Australians generally were due to come in in July, visa waiver countries as well thereafter. We’re looking to bring those forward because we believe we can safely do so,” she said.

“We’ll be looking to make announcements on the timeframe of that this week.”

New Zealand has maintained a hard border for almost two years as the key line in its virus defence, producing the lowest rates of serious illness and death in the developed world.

However, the arrival of the Omicron variant has spiked cases and brought an acceptance that a strict border regime is doing more harm than good.

Tourism operators, separated families and New Zealanders locked out of their own country have petitioned for the dismantling of the borders for some time.

The government committed to a five-step border reopening strategy last month but junked the plan shortly after when Omicron cases began to rise.

So far, it has taken the first two steps — opening to New Zealanders in Australia and further abroad, as well as highly-paid workers in critical industries, and working holidaymakers.

Next comes visa holders and international students, and then will come tourists in Australia and elsewhere.

“We’ve been gradually reopening in the safest way possible,” Ms Ardern said.

“The point we’ve coming off the peak of Omicron is when the experts have said it will be possible to reopening the borders more broadly.”

New Zealand is currently in the middle of its biggest outbreak of the pandemic.

While the rolling seven-day case average has dipped below 20,000, hospitalisations and deaths remain at all-time highs.

On Sunday, hospitalisations reached 896 before worsening to 952 on Monday, when two fresh deaths were also reported.

Ms Ardern is using hospitalisations as her key metric for deciding the peak of the outbreak, given the unreliability of case counts that has come with a switch to self-reporting.

– AAP