Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern has announced the Government’s framework for re-opening borders and moving to an individualised risk-based model for quarantine-free travel at a forum on Reconnecting New Zealanders to the world in Wellington.
The Government will use the second half of 2021 to prepare for a phased resumption of quarantine-free travel.
The release of the plan followed the publication of Sir David Skegg’s Strategic COVID-19 Public Health Advisory Group’s advice to Government.
Preparations for the resumption of quarantine-free travel include trying to vaccinate as many New Zealanders as possible and safely conduct a self-isolation trial for vaccinated New Zealanders during the rest of 2021, Prime Minister Ardern says.
“Getting vaccinated is the number one thing everyone can do to be protected against COVID-19, help accelerate our economic recovery, reduce the risk of lockdowns, and safely allow New Zealand’s borders to begin re-opening next year,” she adds.
“This plan is informed by the best available scientific evidence and public health advice, and it will allow us to capture the opportunities vaccination brings, while protecting the gains New Zealanders have worked so hard for.”
She says key to this is maintaining the Elimination Strategy.
“The advice is clear: If we open our borders now, we will lose the freedoms and advantages we have achieved so far.
“If we give up our elimination approach too soon there is no going back, and we could see significant breakouts here like some countries overseas are experiencing who have opened up early in their vaccination rollout.”
The first step in New Zealand’s plan is speeding up the vaccination process to ensure everyone is at least partially vaccinated as soon as possible to reduce the risk and impact of Delta entering the country.
New Zealand will move to a six-week period between doses, meaning more people can get their first dose quicker and ensuring everyone is at least partially vaccinated in the coming months.
Those who work at the border, have underlying health conditions or wish to be fully vaccinated sooner can still get their second dose after three weeks.
Prime Minister Ardern says the eligibility dates for the remaining groups to be vaccinated will also be brought forward.
Fifty plus will be open from August 13, 40 plus will be open on August 18, 30 plus will be open on August 25, and from September 1, vaccinations will be available to everyone.
“Once enough people are vaccinated, we will be able to start the next step in the plan: a phased introduction of an individual risk-based approach to border settings in 2022,” Prime Minister Ardern continues.
She says Low-Risk, Medium-Risk and High-Risk travel pathways will be created, and which pathway a traveller takes will be based on the risk associated with where they are coming from and their vaccination status.
Each pathway will have testing and isolation requirements proportionate to that risk.
The Low-Risk pathway will permit quarantine free entry for vaccinated travellers who have been in low-risk countries.
The Medium-Risk pathway would include a combination of self-isolation and/or reduced MIQ for vaccinated travellers who have been in medium risk countries.
“To prepare for the Medium-Risk pathway the Government will run a self-isolation pilot in the second half of this year to test processes and systems for the safe use of this tool,” she says.
“Businesses and organisations that need to send staff overseas will be invited to express interest in participating in the pilot which will run between October and December 2021.
“The High-Risk pathway will see the continuation of a full 14 days in MIQ and testing for unvaccinated travellers and any traveller, including vaccinated travellers, who have been in very high-risk or high-risk countries.
“This individual risk-based approach requires new systems to be set up.
“We will use the remainder of 2021 to continue to prepare for the operation of borders under this system.”
This work includes ongoing work on the development of a traveller health declaration system, investigating new testing technology for rapid testing on arrival at airports and reliable pre-departure testing as well as piloting self-isolation arrangements for some New Zealanders and strengthening other public health measures such as contact tracing.
Prime Minister Ardern says New Zealand remains in a strong position, and we do not have COVID in the community and our economy is more open than most.
“Our plan to reopen our borders both protects the gains we have won, while setting us up to safely reconnect New Zealanders and business with the world and seize the opportunities created by our COVID success,” she says.