New Zealand will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travelers on April 30, 2022, more than two years after bringing down the shutters. Wednesday’s announcement included confirmation all fully vaccinated travelers will need to undergo seven days of isolation and sparked another round of flight cancelations by airlines.
But there were some concessions. Fully vaccinated Kiwis and permanent residents in Australia can return to New Zealand from January 16. Except for a handful of high-risk countries, fully vaccinated Kiwis and permanent residents based anywhere else will be able to return from February 13.
While the returning New Zealanders will have to undergo testing and self-isolation, that isolation can be at home rather than in managed quarantine hotels – as is currently the requirement.
“Closing our border was one of the first steps we took to keep our country safe from COVID-19, and it’ll be the last thing we open up,” said New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on Wednesday.
“We are making this announcement today to give families, businesses, visitors, and airline and airport companies certainty and time to prepare.”
Mixed reaction to delayed border reopening date
But the decision has angered many New Zealanders hoping to make it home for Christmas. While some flights to New Zealand are operating, Kiwis must snag a hotly contested and expensive bed in managed quarantine to board the flight. That’s proving a barrier for many Kiwis keen to head home.
“Considering we have got beyond 80% double jabbed and more than 90% with at least one dose and parts of Australia even better than that, I do think the government has missed an opportunity,” Travel Agents’ Association of New Zealand (TAANZ) president Brent Thomas told travel trade publication Travelinc Memo.
While Australia now allows fully vaccinated New Zealanders to skip quarantine if arriving in Sydney or Melbourne, airlines on both sides of the Tasman Sea had been punting on New Zealand returning the favor by the end of the year.
Air New Zealand canceled over trans-Tasman 1000 flights across December earlier this week. Yesterday, they canceled another raft of flights through to January 17.
“A date for travel is the certainty that Air New Zealand has been waiting for, and while it would have been nice to reunite friends and families this side of Christmas, customers will now have the confidence to plan reunions and holidays into the New Year,” said Air New Zealand’s Chief Customer and Sales Officer Leanne Geraghty in a statement.
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Airlines cancel flights – again
For Australia-based airlines, the decision has dashed hopes to ramp up flights to New Zealand later this year. Qantas had fleshed out its schedules between Australia and New Zealand from mid-December 2021, assuming some or all parts of the two-way corridor would restart. Qantas has since canceled most of those flights.
It’s not until February that Qantas starts to offer multiple daily departures on its core routes between the two countries. While Kiwis may be keen to get home and the border reopening does facilitate essential travel, the seven-day self-isolation period isn’t going to bring in many tourists and their much-needed dollars.
Bali is a salutatory lesson in what self-isolation requirements do to leisure travel demand. Since reopening to tourists from 19 countries in mid-October, zero international tourists have flown directly to Denpasar on commercial flights. With its seven-day isolation set to remain in place, New Zealand may find travelers bypassing it for elsewhere.