Aug 1, 2022 - World

New Zealand borders fully reopen as COVID travel restrictions end

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a press conference at Parliament on July 21 in Wellington..

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a July press conference at Parliament in Wellington. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday New Zealand is now "open for business," hours after the country completed the final stage of its phased border reopening.

Why it matters: New Zealand shut its border to most foreign visitors in March 2020 as COVID-19 spread and the government implemented some of the world's toughest pandemic measures.

  • The welcoming back of all student and visitor visa applicants as well as allowing cruise ships and foreign recreational yachts to dock, effective from a minute to midnight Sunday, means the country's borders are now fully reopened as it seeks to revive its pandemic-battered tourism economy.

By the numbers: Pre-pandemic tourism spending generated NZ$40.9 billion (US$25.7 million) and made a a direct annual contribution to gross domestic product of NZ$16.4 billion, or 5.5%.

What they're saying: "It's been a staged and cautious process on our part since February, as we, alongside the rest of the world, continue to manage a very live global pandemic, while keeping our people safe," Ardern said in a speech to the China Business Summit in Auckland on Monday.

The big picture: After the arrival of Omicron in New Zealand, the government last year moved away from an elimination strategy toward one focused on vaccinations.

  • Infection numbers have increased since then, though epidemiologists say the current wave seems to be "leveling off." The seven-day rolling average is 6,990 — down from 8,498 cases the previous week, per the Ministry of Health.
  • 1,502 people have died of the virus in the country of 5 million as of Monday.

Worth noting: New Zealand now operates under a "traffic light" framework of pandemic measures. It is currently in the "orange" setting with no capacity restrictions on venues, though face masks are required to enter places like grocery stores unless people have exemptions.

Go deeper