New Zealand has extended its border lockdown for another five months, closing the country to most international travelers until the end of April next year. The New Zealand government made the announcement Wednesday, stating that it wants to be cautious in easing pandemic travel restrictions, which have been in place for almost two years.
The South Pacific country was one of the first in the region to completely eradicate the virus during the first onset of the pandemic, partly due to its isolated geographic location and its immediate implementation of strict movement restrictions.
While its initial efforts to limit the spread of the virus had proven to be affected, a recent outbreak of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus earlier in the year had forced it to once again shift its strategy.
Since the pandemic began, New Zealand has had little over 10,000 COVID-19 cases and 40 fatalities, much lower than other comparable nations.
Some cities, including the capital city of Auckland, have already gradually opened up as vaccination rates continue to climb throughout the nation. Despite this, the government is still reluctant to allow foreign travelers into the country.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday that the country will only allow fully vaccinated international travelers to enter starting on Apr. 30, 2022. He added that even if travelers are fully vaccinated, they will still be required to self-isolate for at least seven days after they arrive.
Meanwhile, fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens and residence visa holders traveling from Australia will be allowed to enter the country starting on Jan. 16. Citizens and residence visa holders traveling from other countries will be allowed into the country starting on Feb. 13.
All travelers entering the country after the aforementioned dates will still be required to self-isolate for seven days. Before traveling to New Zealand, they will be required to present a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test, proof of being fully vaccinated, and they must submit to another COVID-19 test upon arrival.
Hipkins said the country's step-by-step approach is its best course of action to properly manage the risks of another outbreak. He added that by gradually allowing vaccinated travelers, the country could reduce the potential impacts on the nation's health care system and its people.
The decision to extend the nation's border lockdown comes as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is under mounting pressure to reopen the country to travelers and tourists ahead of the holiday season. However, growing concerns of another outbreak have outweighed those calls.
Last week, Air New Zealand announced that it had to cancel about 1,000 flights to the uncertainty of the border's status. Several businesses have launched campaigns calling on the government to reopen borders amid the slumping economy.