New Zealand will finally reopen its borders from early next year, after the majority of the population is vaccinated against Covid-19. A quarantine period for travelers from medium- and high-risk countries will be mandatory.

In a speech on Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that if New Zealanders “heed the call” to be vaccinated by the end of 2021, “it is our goal to reduce and then eventually remove the need for lockdowns” and border restrictions – with the country instead taking a “measles approach” to Covid-19, where outbreaks are traced and isolated.

“We cannot keep border restrictions on forever, and to be absolutely clear we do not want to either,” Ardern said, adding that the closure of the border was “only ever a temporary measure.”

New Zealand’s borders were closed to international travel, with few exceptions, in March 2020.

The country plans to “transition from a border defense to the individual armor of the vaccine,” provided that the science backs up the plan, she said.

From there, a system should be rolled out that will determine how someone is able to enter New Zealand, based on factors such as their vaccination status, recent travel history, and country of departure.

New Zealand will rank countries by perceived risk –and rules will apply to New Zealanders leaving the country and returning for short trips as well as foreign travelers.

Fully vaccinated travelers who depart from low-risk countries and test negative at the border could potentially self-isolate at their homes or in quarantine for shorter time periods than those considered to be a higher risk, who will have to quarantine in a designated facility. Currently, those who are able to enter New Zealand must undergo a 14-day quarantine.

Ardern also revealed the government’s intentions to develop its own digital vaccine passport system to determine a traveler’s vaccination status and assess their risk.

The proposals have not been set in stone, however, with the prime minister warning that all plans will be subjected to change and variations, with “a range of possibilities” for the government to choose from.

A test pilot for vaccinated travelers and self-quarantine is expected to take place between October and December before restrictions ease further next year. Ardern said the “ultimate goal” is to move to quarantine-free travel for all vaccinated travelers, but warned that “just like after 9/11, the border will never be the same after Covid.”

“Vaccines, border testing and monitoring of symptoms when you travel will eventually become our baseline. And we will get used to it,” she concluded.

Around 34% of New Zealanders over the age of 16 have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while roughly 20% are fully vaccinated.

Partially due to its strict border restrictions that were enacted early during the pandemic, New Zealand is one of the least Covid-affected countries in the world, with just 2,914 recorded cases and 26 deaths.

Neighboring nation Australia also recently revealed a plan for the reopening of its borders, which will allow vaccinated Australians to leave the country once at least 80% of the population have the jab. Currently, just 23.5% of Australians over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Like New Zealand, Australia’s borders have also been closed for international travel since March 2020, with even Australian residents and citizens subject to strict entry caps and expensive flights – leaving many stranded overseas for the duration of the pandemic.

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