The announcement means borders will open two months ahead of the government’s schedule.
New Zealand will fully reopen its international borders from July 31, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday, marking the end of one of the toughest border regimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement means borders will open two months ahead of the government’s schedule to lift remaining pandemic restrictions.
Earlier this month, New Zealand began welcoming tourists from more than 50 countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain and Japan, for the first time in more than two years, after previously lifting restrictions on visitors from Australia and Europe.
Most visitors and returning citizens are still required to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result prior to departure.
Speaking at a luncheon hosted by Business NZ in Auckland, Ardern said reopening borders would help ease skills shortages, revive tourism and put immigration on a more secure footing.
“We are building on our proven plan to secure New Zealand’s economic future,” Ardern said.
New Zealand relied heavily on strict border controls to manage COVID-19. While the South Pacific country has reported fewer than 850 deaths during the pandemic, its isolation took a heavy toll on industries such as tourism and left thousands of New Zealanders stranded abroad.
“I think many New Zealanders are looking forward to traveling internationally again and welcoming tourists here,” Michael Plank, a statistician at the University of Canterbury whose modeling informed the government’s pandemic strategy, told Al Jazeera.
“COVID-19 will continue to be a public health issue that needs to be managed carefully. But now that our population is highly vaccinated and COVID is widespread, travel restrictions are no longer effective as a control measure.”
Eve Lawrence, general manager of Haka Tourism Group in Auckland, said the announcement represents a “big step in the right direction” but COVID testing rules continue to be a barrier to tourism.
“The barriers we face are pre-departure testing, the cost of this, and the lengthy pre-departure declaration process,” Lawrence told Al Jazeera. “We really need pre-departure procedures to be eased and testing removed so that many continue to see New Zealand as a viable option this year.”
Lawrence said he thinks most New Zealanders will be happy to see borders fully reopen after more than two years of restrictions.
“This will give a much needed morale boost to tourism, agriculture and hospo [hospitality] business and ensure they can look forward to a prosperous summer season,” he said.