New Zealand eases quarantine but won’t welcome tourists yet

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Wellington: New Zealand will gradually loosen border quarantine requirements, which have been among the toughest in the world throughout the pandemic.

But while the changes will make it easier for New Zealanders stranded abroad to return home, officials gave no date for when tourists might be welcomed back. That change is likely still months away.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said that from next month, most people arriving in the country would need to spend seven days in a quarantine hotel run by the military, half the previous requirement.

A giant sign painted near the main runway of the Wellington International Airport greets travellers returning home in Wellington.

A giant sign painted near the main runway of the Wellington International Airport greets travellers returning home in Wellington.Credit:Getty Images

He said some new arrivals from low-risk Pacific island countries could skip quarantine altogether and isolate at home.

He said the new rules were an interim step ahead of broader reopening measures that would be gradually introduced once more than 90 per cent of people aged 12 and over were fully vaccinated. So far, 72 per cent of eligible people have had both shots.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins speaks during a press conference in Wellington on Thursday.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins speaks during a press conference in Wellington on Thursday.Credit:Stuff/AP

The change follows a growing outcry from New Zealanders who have been trying to return home but have been unable to secure spots in the quarantine system. Some have resorted to legal action.

“I acknowledge that there’s a lot of pressure there. My message to the people who are keen to get back into New Zealand is: there isn’t very long to wait now,” Hipkins said. “And encouraging their fellow New Zealanders to get fully vaccinated will help us get to that point faster.”

Hipkins said he expected most new arrivals would be able to isolate at home by sometime in the first quarter of next year. He said the government’s priority was returning New Zealanders and those with valid visas.

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