Cheat sheet: what will an almost fully reopened New Zealand look like?
One of the last bricks in the metaphorical border wall the government has built to keep Covid out comes down from midnight, even as more than 2,000 travelers a week test positive.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response to the threat of the novel coronavirus in March 2020 was to close the border to everyone outside, even residents.
“At no time in New Zealand’s history has a power like this been used,” Ardern noted during a stand-up bristling with the uncertainty of the new virus, an event that seems now there is a half-life.
As Covid has transformed, New Zealand’s border strategy has gradually transformed.
* The government’s “heavy posture” risks blocking the recovery of tourism after Covid
* News cruise ships will soon return ‘biggest woohoo moment’ for industry boss
* ‘The city needs its vibrancy back’: what returning tourists bring to Wellington
* New Zealand ‘opens its doors’ to working holiday visa applicants for the first time since the start of the pandemic
But for two and a half years, our borders remained closed to visitors from non-visa-waiver countries, international cruise passengers and international students who had no exceptions or exemptions.
That changes tonight.
What is a visa-free country?
Most of our biggest tourist markets are among the 60 visa-free countries that opened their doors to tourists in early May.
But not China. And not India.
These two markets are probably the most important markets for our tourism industry that have remained out of reach this winter so far due to border rules.
China was our second-largest tourism market after Australia, and spending by 390,000 Chinese visitors in 2019 reached $1.7 billion.
However, the winter ski season is also traditionally a low season for these countries, before the summer and fall boom.
As expected, ski destinations like Queenstown and Ruapehu have welcomed many Australian tourists this winter.
But other centers and regions, such as the West Coast, Auckland and Wellington, have seen more than one trickle. It’s pretty typical of winter.
So international cruises are back – will anyone be coming?
When the Pacific Explorer docks in Auckland in two weeks, Kevin O’Sullivan will be there to greet passengers.
The chief executive of the New Zealand Cruise Association admits that in March 2020 – the last time cruise ships docked in New Zealand – he called border closures a “short-term pause”.
“It’s been difficult, quite depressing at times, but getting more and more.”
The global cruise industry has taken a huge hit from Covid, not only in its pocket but also in its reputation due to the way it seeded itself in clusters on ships at the start of the pandemic.
Here in Aotearoa, the docking of the Ruby Princess in Napier in March 2020 led to a cluster of cases in Hawke’s Bay when a tour guide was infected by a passenger.
But there are early signs of a turnaround in even pent-up demand for cruises, a lifeline for businesses that once relied on daily increases in customers over the summer.
The season will really pick up from October, and O’Sullivan says even the biggest ships due to dock are very busy – around 70-80% – while the smaller ones are full.
We are in the midst of a Covid surge – is this reopening a good idea?
The context in which a full reopening of the border is taking place is interesting.
New Zealand has recorded just over 20,000 Covid cases on its borders since the start of the pandemic.
Of these, 2393 are from last week to Sunday alone. In other words, more than 10% of cases at our borders throughout the pandemic have been recorded in the last seven days.
Experts have argued that a full reopening, especially a reopening without pre-departure testing, could put additional strain on our strained healthcare system.
University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker told RNZ last week that the rise in cases at the border was a bad sign and meant that new variants of Covid-19 would enter the country more quickly. than ever.
“We are effectively seeding the country much faster with new variants from overseas.”
In a written statement to RNZ last week, Covid-19 Response Minister Ayesha Verrall said she was confident the measures in place were sufficient.
Verrall said the recent surge in cases at the border was not high enough to have a significant impact on community spread “especially when compared to the number of daily new cases in the community.”
An important factor to note is that New Zealand remains closed to most unvaccinated travelers aged 17 and over (if they do not hold a New Zealand or Australian passport).
Covid vaccines are no longer an important factor when it comes to reducing the transmission of new Omicron variants like BA.5, but they are still excellent at providing immunity against serious diseases, which should help prevent a large number of travelers to clog the health system.
What will the reopening be for?
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash and Immigration Minister Michael Wood say reopening the border will be a much-needed economic boost.
The symbolism and fairness of it are also significant.
Being able to say that New Zealand is open to everyone is an important message, especially given how important tourism was before the pandemic.
“Today’s change in border settings marks the final step in our reconnect strategy,” Nash said.
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash announces details of proposed rules for free camping, alongside Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult in Queenstown. (November 2021)
“Globally, there is a pent-up demand for people to visit New Zealand. In January, 58% of Australians wishing to visit New Zealand wanted to come within six months of the borders opening. This number is even higher for our US target market, at 77%, and we’re ready for them.”
Nash said the return of cruise ships is another boost for local communities. Before the pandemic, their tours were worth more than $500 million a year, of which $356 million was spent ashore.
Wood said the resumption of major visa categories, including students, was important because the international education sector was worth billions of dollars before the pandemic.
“While we have continued to support the sector with border exceptions during the pandemic, the full resumption of visa processing is great news for our universities, polytechnics and wananga, and schools, English language schools and training institutions. private.”
Now that the borders are fully open, people coming to New Zealand for work will primarily use the Accredited Employer Work Visa, which opened on July 4, to enter the country.