WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand will reopen its borders to tourists from all countries by July, allow back cruise ships and make it easier for skilled workers to immigrate as it looks outward to the world again following the COVID-19 pandemic, the government said Wednesday.
New Zealand imposed some of the world’s strictest border controls when COVID-19 first hit more than two years ago. That allowed the nation of 5 million to eliminate several virus outbreaks and get vaccination rates up before the omicron variant swept through this year.
New Zealand's coronavirus death toll has remained far below that of almost every other developed nation. But as the pandemic has dragged on, New Zealand's border measures have increasingly appeared outdated as other countries have reopened.
New Zealand has been slowly reopening, first to Australians last month and then to tourists from the U.S., Britain and more than 50 other countries earlier this month. Wednesday's announcement will allow tourists from China, India and other countries to come starting July 31.
The government said it also planned to end the need for people to get predeparture COVID-19 tests by the end of July.
But in a sign that the virus continues to disrupt daily life, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not make the announcement in person at a business lunch in Auckland as she had planned, but instead spoke via video link from her residence in Wellington where she is isolating.
Ardern's fiancé Clarke Gayford tested positive for the virus on Sunday. Ardern has so far tested negative and said she's been symptom-free. New Zealand health rules require household contacts of infected people to isolate for seven days.
“Today I can announce that New Zealand fully reopens to the world by July 31, completing our reconnecting work two months ahead of schedule," Ardern said on the video link.
She said new immigration settings would make it easier for skilled workers to enter from July, with a new “green list” of 56 sought-after professions including doctors, nurses, engineers, plumbers, teachers and tech workers.
“This package is designed to address the urgent skills shortages created by COVID while also putting our immigration settings on a better and more sustainable footing," Ardern said.
Before the pandemic hit, more than 3 million tourists visited each year, accounting for 20% of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5% of the overall economy.
Business leaders and tourism representatives welcomed the announcement.
“After two years of hardship, hundreds of Kiwi ship suppliers and tourism operators can start rebuilding their businesses back," said Debbie Summers, the chairperson of the New Zealand Cruise Association.