Travellers from visa-waiver nations including Singapore allowed to enter New Zealand from May 1
WELLINGTON: Travellers from countries and territories that have visa-free arrangements with New Zealand, including Singapore, will be allowed to enter the country from May 1.
Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced on Wednesday (Mar 16) that New Zealand will scrap its strict border controls early because the country's world-leading pandemic response has made it "a safe place to visit".
"We're ready to welcome the world back," Ardern told reporters.
"I'm proud that New Zealand is a country able at this moment in time to provide a safe place for our tourists to return to."
Ardern said that vaccinated Australians could visit without undergoing quarantine or self-isolation from Apr 12, according to Reuters.
Travellers from countries and territories that have visa-free arrangements with New Zealand - including major markets in the Northern Hemisphere, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan - will be allowed to do the same from May 1.
Ardern described the change as a major boost for New Zealand's struggling tourism industry.
"We are ready to safely move into a new chapter of our management of the pandemic, this change brings with it huge economic opportunities," she said.
New Zealand welcomed 3.9 million international arrivals in 2019 but borders closed in March 2020 as COVID-19 swept the world.
"CLEAN, GREEN AND SAFE"
For much of the pandemic, all international arrivals had to undergo two weeks of quarantine in government-run hotel facilities patrolled by the military.
The controls helped keep the virus out of the community for extended periods but New Zealand is currently experiencing a wave of Omicron-variant infections, with more than 21,000 new cases recorded on Tuesday.
However, the population is highly vaccinated, with more than 95 per cent double jabbed and has recorded just 117 coronavirus-related deaths in a population of 5 million.
Ardern said New Zealand had the lowest death rate in the developed world and its pandemic response would make it attractive to tourists in a competitive international market.
"We are a safe place to visit and New Zealand will be ready with open arms," she said.
"We will be a sought-after market, we're now known globally as not just being clean and green, but also being safe."
Air New Zealand welcomed the change, saying it was ready to ramp up services to meet demand.
"It's no secret the past two years have been extremely turbulent for people - there's a real buzz today," airline chief executive Greg Foran said.
"New Zealand holds a special place in many people's hearts, whether they're a Kiwi or visitor, touching down on New Zealand soil will be a moment to remember."
The announcement did not cover arrivals from countries such as China and India, where visas are required to visit New Zealand, who must currently self isolate for 10 days upon arrival.
The requirement is not due to be dropped until October but Ardern said that date was also likely to be moved forward.
The news boosted airline and travel stocks in Australia and New Zealand, with Air New Zealand up 2.2 per cent, Qantas Airways rising 2.5 per cent and Auckland Airport gaining 1.1 per cent in afternoon trading.
Foreigners were previously banned outright from entering, and until the last month citizens looking to return had to either make emergency requests to the government or secure a spot in state quarantine facilities.
"While we know it will take some time to see tourism scale up again, today's announcement will be a welcome boost for our tourism operators who have done it harder than many," Ardern said.
Closed borders have had a significant impact on the economy, cutting off the supply of seasonal labourers from Pacific nations and reducing air shipping options, as well as halting international tourism.
Prior to border closures, tourism directly contributed around 5.5 per cent of GDP, or around NZ$41 billion (US$28 billion). A further NZ$11 billion was indirectly generated by the sector.
Lynda Keene, chief executive at the Tourism Export Council of New Zealand, said Australians are more likely to visit than other nationalities, and tourist numbers are not expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels until the year ending May 2026.
Labour shortages should also start to ease with the opening of the border longer term, but for most of the viticulture and horticulture sector it's too late for this season with the harvest nearly done.
"It's good news, but there is a 'but'," said Chris Lewis, immigration spokesperson for Federated Farmers, who expects it will take until at least October before things really start to improve.