“We cannot stay locked behind the fortress walls of New Zealand”: Fury over border restrictions
New Zealand on Thursday unveiled its intention to provisionally reopen its borders to citizens in 2022, but made no mention of foreigners allowed in as it continues to withdraw from its Zero Covid strategy. .
Jacinda Arden’s government has unveiled plans to cut hotel quarantine in half from 14 to seven days in November and ultimately replace it with home isolation under increasing pressure from Kiwis stranded abroad.
His government faces increasing domestic pressure on its Zero Covid policy, which it officially abandoned earlier this year after the Delta variant of the coronavirus was found to be able to evade quarantine measures.
However, New Zealanders still face strict Covid restrictions and the city of Auckland will remain closed until the end of this month.
“We are also very aware of the pressure that has been created at the border as the world begins to reconnect, and of the growing number of New Zealanders here and abroad who wish to connect with their loved ones,” said Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said. .
At present, the country has only 4,000 hotel rooms under quarantine – far too few for the number of citizens trying to return home, which has left many stranded abroad.
Foreign travelers are not allowed to enter the country and the government has given no indication that this will change with the new quarantine rules for citizens.
Local media regularly report Kiwis unable to visit relatives who are dying or facing family crises due to quarantine requirements and several people have attempted to return to New Zealand from Australia through the notoriously perilous Tasman Sea. .
The plan sparked fury from the opposition who called the decision a “bare minimum” and warned “we cannot stay locked behind the fortress walls of New Zealand”.
Opposition Covid spokesman Chris Bishop said “it’s time to reopen to the world” and fully vaccinated arrivals from low-risk countries shouldn’t have to self-isolate.
The border previously served as a bulwark for New Zealand’s viral response, but a Delta variant outbreak in Auckland and new cases are now emerging in the community.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said arrivals from a handful of small Pacific island states would be granted quarantine-free travel starting next month and other low-risk countries would be envisaged early next year
Former New Zealand Prime Minister Sir John Key said in September that New Zealand had become “a sufficient hermit kingdom” and that travel restrictions should be lifted as a matter of priority.
New Zealand has only recorded 28 deaths from Covid-19 out of a population of five million, and its people have enjoyed near-normal domestic lives during most of the pandemic.
But border facilities have become increasingly stretched, with tens of thousands of New Zealanders based overseas demanding online to reserve the 4,000 available quarantine rooms.
Some New Zealanders stranded in Australia attempted to cross the Tasman Sea – a notoriously dangerous journey – in small boats in a desperate attempt to return home.
Boats full of people willing to risk severe seasickness and the perilous journey have left Australia in recent weeks after unsuccessful attempts to secure a quarantined hotel room.
Hipkins said the changes will free up more rooms and the goal is to move towards home isolation in the first three months of 2022.
Mr Hipkins said the changes would free up around 1,500 places, but “many will be used for community cases” as the Delta epidemic worsens in New Zealand.
89 community cases were identified by health officials on Thursday, including two in Christchurch, ending a 358-day virus-free race for the South Island’s largest city.
The New Zealand government chose not to lock down the city, with Mr Hipkins saying there were “no major exhibition events”.
“Close contacts have been identified and are self-isolating… we will continue to monitor the situation closely,” he said.
He said no decision had yet been made on whether the home isolation regime would apply only to returning New Zealanders or would also include foreign travelers.
“We don’t want to accelerate the spread of Covid-19 outside of Auckland by prematurely changing the international border.
“Once we hit those high vaccination rates, at this point you will start to see a bit more change at the border,” he said.
Hipkins has linked more movement as New Zealand reaches 90 percent of eligible fully vaccinated Kiwis.
As of Thursday, 72% of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated and 87% have received their first vaccine.
Australians who hope to travel without quarantine by Christmas have yet to receive any guarantees from the New Zealand government (pictured: a passenger on a Trans-Tasman flight in April 2021)
Hipkins also announced that arrivals from a handful of small Pacific island states will be granted non-quarantine travel starting next month, and other low-risk countries will be considered early next year.
Arrivals from Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Tokelau would be without quarantine from November 8, reflecting existing agreements with the Cook Islands and Niue.
He said the border previously served as a bulwark for New Zealand’s viral response, but a Delta variant outbreak in Auckland meant most new cases were now emerging in the community.
He did not provide any details on the likely reopening of a travel bubble with Australia.
The bubble opened in April but faced a lot of disruption and was finally suspended in June as multiple epidemics spread across Australia.
Australians can fly to New Zealand, but they will need to spend a week in hotel quarantine and an additional three days in self-isolation at home