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New Zealand to ease restrictions on international travelers vaccinated by Covid in 2022

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(CNN) New Zealand will allow international travelers to be fully vaccinated in the country from next year, in a gradual easing of its strict border restrictions that have been in place for more than 18 months to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Fully vaccinated citizens, residents and tourists will be allowed to enter the country in three phases, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins explained during a press conference on Wednesday, November 24th.

The border will initially be open to New Zealand citizens and residents traveling from neighboring Australia on January 16, before expanding to include New Zealanders to the rest of the world on February 13.

Visitors fully vaccinated from all other countries except those considered “high risk” can visit the Pacific island nation from April 30, Hipkins said.

“A step-by-step approach to reconnecting with the world is the safest approach to ensuring that risk is carefully managed,” he added. “It reduces potential impacts on vulnerable communities and the New Zealand health system.”

New Zealand closed its borders in March 2020 as part of its push to eradicate Covid-19 and has some of the strictest border measures in the world.

The early blockade largely kept infections away, with the exception of a Delta outbreak in August, after which numbers rose briefly.

The country has recorded more than 10,600 cases and only 40 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But the relatively low figures have come at a cost.

Currently, those who want to return must be quarantined in government-run facilities, which have limited space. People have had to join an online lottery to try to secure a space.

This will change when the new rules take effect.

Anyone coming to New Zealand will have to be isolated at home for seven days, show vaccination evidence, a negative Covid-19 test and a statement that they have not been to a high-risk country, Hipkins said.

According to the country’s Ministry of Health, 84% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, while 92% have had at least one dose.

Hipkins said some restrictions will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

“We will eventually reach a point where people will be able to move much more freely across the border and those periods of isolation will not be required,” he said. “We are not at that point yet.”

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