New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday the nation will not open its borders to non-residents until next year to preserve the success they have had against the coronavirus pandemic.
The nation of five million people has been among the best in the world at containing the virus that causes COVID-19. The country has seen just 2,914 cases and 26 deaths, according to the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the global outbreak. A large part of that success is due to New Zealand closing its borders for the past 18 months to non-residents.
At a news conference in Wellington, Ardern told reporters the recent wave of infections around the world convinced her the country is doing the right thing.
“While the pandemic continues to rage overseas, and the virus continues to change and mutate, the best thing we can do is lock in the gains achieved to date, while keeping our options open and giving ourselves choices,” she said.
Ardern said vaccines are the “game changer” in the pandemic, and for them to be successful, the country needs to get as many people inoculated as possible. Perhaps because of their success in controlling the spread of the virus, New Zealand has seen a slow rollout of their vaccination program, with just 29% of the population having received one shot and 17% fully vaccinated.
Ardern said the delay in opening the borders will allow the country to complete its vaccination program. And even then, she said the reopening will be “careful and deliberate.”
Ardern said beginning in early 2022, the government will move to a new model for travel into New Zealand, establishing low-, medium- and high-risk pathways into the country.
Fully vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries will be able to travel quarantine-free, while those from medium- and high-risk countries will have to go through a combination of measures ranging from self-isolation to spending 14 days in quarantine.
The prime minister said New Zealand will also speed up its vaccination program with all eligible ages able to book their shot by September 1. It will also extend the gap between doses to six weeks to ensure more New Zealanders are at least partially vaccinated.