Australia and New Zealand have announced cautious plans to reopen their borders in recent days, but there’s still a way to go before tourists are allowed back.
Vaccinated visitors can travel to New Zealand early next year, it was announced today (24 November), while Australia’s timeframe is still taking shape.
Both countries took swift action to shut their borders at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, among strict measures that have ensured a relatively low number of deaths from COVID-19: just under 2,000 in Australia and 40 in New Zealand.
With vaccination rates reportedly now over 80 per cent of the population in the neighbouring nations, and the Delta-variant spread causing a strategy re-think, plans are in place for the borders to reopen.
It’s welcome news for residents who have been kept out, and those eager to be reunited with family for the first time in two years, but what does it mean for travel exactly?
Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking of returning to Australia or New Zealand, or planning to book a holiday in the next year.
What’s the timeline for arrivals in New Zealand?
New Zealand’s COVID-19 response minister Chris Hipkins today unveiled a staged reopening of the country, which “reduces any potential impacts on vulnerable communities and the New Zealand health system.”
The first phase will see fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens and residents currently in Australia welcomed back from 17 January onwards, followed by New Zealanders in all other countries from 14 February.
Foreign travellers will be the third and last group allowed in from 30 April. All arrivals will need to be fully vaccinated, tested on arrival, and will have to self-isolate for seven days.
New Zealanders have been allowed back since April 2020 after the managed isolation and quarantine system (MIQ) was set up. But with a lengthy hotel confinement of 14 days - dropped to seven earlier this month - and spaces limited, many residents have felt locked out.
Mr Hipkins highlighted the rising number of cases in Europe during today’s press conference.
Defending the government’s decision not to open before Christmas, he said “there continues to be a global pandemic with cases surging in Europe and other parts of the world, so we do need to be very careful when reopening the border.”
When will tourists be allowed back into Australia?
Australia is also taking a “step-by-step approach” to reopening its borders, Prime Minister Scott Morrison explained on Monday.
From 1 December, fully-vaccinated visa holders - including international students, skilled workers and travellers on working holidays - will be allowed into Sydney and Melbourne.
It is hoped the move will give a boost to industries dependent on seasonal labour, after reports of Australian farmers having to leave fruit and vegetables to rot in the fields due to a lack of foreign workers.
It also means that some international students will be able to complete the last year of their degrees in person, having studied online for nearly two years.
The government has yet to announce when holiday-makers will be allowed to return, however. An estimated one million tourists are keen to explore the vast land of Australia again.
And while eligible vaccinated travellers will be able to arrive without quarantining into New South Wales and Victoria next month, parts of the country with lower vaccination rates are still imposing restrictions at state lines.