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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a news conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, on Monday. Photo: Mark Mitchell - Pool/Getty Images

New Zealand will reopen to most international travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 next year, in a gradual lifting of border restrictions that have been in place since March 2020.

Why it matters: NZ imposed some of the world's toughest pandemic measures and largely contained the virus to managed hotel quarantine facilities for returning New Zealand residents. Its economy had rebounded before Delta arrived in August and domestic restrictions returned.

The big picture: COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told a briefing Wednesday that from 11:59pm on Jan. 16, fully vaccinated New Zealanders and other eligible travelers can travel to NZ from Australia without staying in quarantine facilities, though there are negative test requirements.

  • They will initially have to self-isolate for seven days, with the goal of removing the requirement at some point. "We will keep that under constant review," Hipkins said.
  • The border would open to fully vaccinated NZ permanent residents from all other countries from Feb. 13, and foreign travelers who are inoculated against COVID-19 can travel to New Zealand from April 30.

Yes, but: People from countries classed as "very high risk" still won't be permitted to enter NZ. Papua New Guinea is currently the only nation that would be affected by this.

For the record: Auckland, NZ's most populous city and the center of the Delta outbreak, has been under restrictions since August.

  • These are beginning to ease amid the ongoing Delta outbreak, as the country moves to the COVID-19 Protection Framework. This includes a vaccine mandate for businesses such as bars, restaurants, gyms and hair salons — which means they can't operate unless all staff are fully vaccinated.

Go deeper

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."

16 hours ago - Health

CDC strengthens COVID booster recommendation

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday strengthened its previous recommendation for booster shots, saying that everyone 18 and older "should" receive a booster dose.

Why it matters: Last month, CDC director Rochelle Walensky accepted a key advisory committee's recommendation that adults "may" get the shot. The slight, but strengthened, change in wording comes amid the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Federal court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for health workers in 10 states

President Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting with his COVID-19 response team. Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

A federal court in Missouri has blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate for health care workers at federally funded facilities in 10 states.

Why it matters: Monday's decision is the first victory for opponents of the rule, which requires health care workers to get vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022. The case is one of four lawsuits challenging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) rule and argues that the mandate will exacerbate staffing shortages.