Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a five-stage plan to open the borders and ease pressure on MIQ.
The five stages of border reopening summarised:
Feb 27: Returning Kiwis from Australia who are vaccinated will have to self-isolate – but won’t need a space in a Government-run managed isolation facility (MIQ). Critical workers in Australia will also be able to travel into New Zealand.
March 13: New Zealanders from the rest of the world will be able to return under similar conditions, alongside some critical workers, and their families. These first two stages include both citizens and permanent residents.
In April non-citizens with visas – like international students and a wider swath of skilled workers – will be able to skip MIQ.
No-later than July the country is expected to open up to non-citizens from visa-waiver countries – like Australia, the USA, and UK. (Ardern emphasised that this could happen prior to July however, saying there was a “high-likelihood” things could move faster.)
From October, New Zealand would open up to the rest of the world and normal visa processing would resume.
Ardern explained that the border couldn’t reopen to everyone at once because of the need to scale up predeparture and isolation systems. She noted that Australia was chosen for the first stage because the trans-Tasman relationship is important and it’s close to home.
At first, arrivals will need to self-isolate for 10 days, but once New Zealand moves to “phase two” of the Omicron outbreak that period will drop to 7 days, meaning returning Kiwis will be treated the same way close contacts within New Zealand now.
They will be given three rapid antigen tests at the airport – one for use on day zero or one, one for use on day five or six, and an extra as a backup. Anyone who tests positive will be asked to get a follow-up PCR test.
Ardern said MIQ would remain for “high risk travellers such as those who are unvaccinated” – but it would slowly be transformed into a new National Quarantine Service.