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

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced plans Thursday to reopen the country's borders in 2022 while maintaining a COVID-19 elimination strategy — with vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries not required to quarantine.

Why it matters: New Zealand has some of the lowest coronavirus rates in the world, reporting fewer than 2,900 infections and 26 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began. It's detected no community cases for 166 days, containing COVID-19 to managed quarantine facilities.

  • The country effectively closed its border to non-residents in March last year as the pandemic spread across the world.
  • It has managed to largely keep the virus out despite some residents returning to quarantine hotels from abroad infected with the Delta variant, health officials noted at a forum ahead of Ardern's announcement.

What to expect: The government will implement a phased, risk-based system for travelers entering New Zealand from early 2022, once all residents have been offered Pfizer doses — the only coronavirus vaccine available in the country.

  • "Low-Risk, Medium-Risk and High-Risk travel pathways will be created, and which pathway a traveller takes will be based on the risk associated with where they are coming from and their vaccination status," per a statement from Ardern.
  • Under this system, vaccinated travelers from high-risk countries would need to quarantine in a managed facility for 14 days. Those from medium-risk countries would have a reduced quarantine period, or be allowed to self-isolate.
  • Travelers from low-risk countries would not have to quarantine upon arrival.

What she's saying: "Our ultimate goal is to get to quarantine-free travel for all vaccinated travelers," Ardern said.

  • "A careful approach that says, there won't be zero cases, but when there is one in the community, we crush it, is the best way to maintain our normal lives while we monitor the twists and turns of COVID-19 over the next six months."

The big picture: Ardern's government has been criticized by opposition figures for a slower COVID-19 vaccine rollout than other countries. The prime minister maintained that New Zealand must not participate in vaccine nationalism and wait for coronavirus-affected countries get supplies first.

  • Now, NZ is ramping up its rollout. Roughly a third of New Zealand residents have received their first dose and over 20% their second.
  • By Sept. 1, vaccine bookings will be open to everyone in the country over 16, and the government expects it to be offered to all residents by December.

Of note: New Zealand and Australia opened a quarantine-free "travel bubble" in April. But this was paused last month after Australia was hit by an outbreak of cases driven by the Delta variant.

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: CDC says some immunocompromised people can get fourth COVID shot — FDA panel endorses Pfizer vaccines for 5-11 year olds — Moderna says vaccine shows strong immune response in kids
  2. Health: 96% of Tyson Foods employees vaccinated ahead of mandate deadline — U.S. releases updated vaccination, testing rules for foreign travelers — Those who miss work without pay due to COVID also had food insecurity
  3. Politics: Alabama governor orders state agencies to fight federal vaccine mandate — Axios-Ipsos poll: Confidence in Biden COVID recovery tumbles — New York City police union files lawsuit against vaccine mandate.
  4. Education: Benefits of vaccine for children outweigh risks, FDA says — Education secretary reveals limits to Biden’s mask push on states — LA extends deadline for school employee vaccinations.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Oct 25, 2021 - Health

DeSantis touts bonuses for unvaccinated police who relocate to Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference Friday in Kissimmee, Fla. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans Sunday to "hopefully sign" legislation to provide a $5,000 bonus to police officers who relocate to Florida in order to avoid COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The governor's pledge during an appearance on Fox News comes amid escalating tensions with the Biden administration over its upcoming vaccine requirement for federal workers.

Oct 26, 2021 - Health

New York City police union files lawsuit against vaccine mandate

Combination images of New York City Patrolman Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images/David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

New York City's biggest police union filed a lawsuit Monday against Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all NYC public employees.

Why it matters: The mandate requires all city employees to have had at least one dose by this Friday. They must show proof of vaccination or they'll be placed on unpaid leave. The Police Benevolent Association of New York tweeted Monday that it's seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the mandate, pending the outcome of its lawsuit.