The Government will use the second half of 2021 to vaccinate as many New Zealanders as possible and safely conduct a self-isolation trial for vaccinated New Zealanders in order to prepare for a phased resumption of quarantine-free travel.
The Government’s framework for re-opening borders and moving to an individualised risk-based model for quarantine-free travel was unveiled at a forum on Reconnecting New Zealanders to the World in Wellington today. The release of the plan followed the publication of Sir David Skegg’s Strategic COVID-19 Public Health Advisory Group’s advice to Government on Wednesday.
Getting vaccinated is the number one thing everyone can do to be protected against COVID-19, help accelerate our economic recovery, reduce the risk of lockdowns, and safely allow New Zealand’s borders to begin re-opening next year.
The plan announced today is informed by the best available scientific evidence and public health advice. It will allow us to capture the opportunities vaccination brings, while protecting the gains New Zealanders have worked so hard for.
We will maintain our elimination strategy
Key to this is maintaining our elimination strategy. The advice is clear: If we open our borders now we will lose the freedoms and advantages we have achieved so far.
If we give up our elimination approach too soon there is no going back, and we could see significant breakouts here like some countries overseas are experiencing who have opened up early in their vaccination rollout.
We are speeding up our vaccinations
Therefore the first step in our plan is speeding up the vaccination process to ensure everyone is at least partially vaccinated as soon as possible to reduce the risk and impact of Delta entering the country.
From today we are moving to a 6 week period between doses, meaning more people can get their first dose quicker and ensuring everyone is at least partially vaccinated in the coming months. Those who work at our border, have underlying health conditions or wish to be fully vaccinated sooner can still get their second dose after three weeks.
We are also bringing forward the eligibility dates for the remaining groups. As already announced 50 plus will be open from Friday 13 August, 40 plus will be open on Wednesday 18 August, 30 plus will be open on Wednesday 25 August and from 1 September we will be open for all eligible ages.
We will introduce risk-based travel pathways
Once enough people are vaccinated, we will be able to start the next step in the plan: a phased introduction of an individual risk-based approach to border settings in 2022.
Low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk travel pathways will be created, and which pathway a traveller takes will be based on the risk associated with where they are coming from and their vaccination status.
Each pathway will have testing and isolation requirements proportionate to that risk.
Low-risk travel pathway
The low-risk pathway will permit quarantine-free entry for vaccinated travellers who have been in low risk countries.
Medium-risk travel pathway
The medium-risk pathway would include a combination of self-isolation and/or reduced managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) for vaccinated travellers who have been in medium risk countries.
To prepare for the medium-risk pathway, the Government will run a self-isolation pilot in the second half of this year to test processes and systems for the safe use of this tool.
Businesses and organisations that need to send staff overseas will be invited to express interest in participating in the pilot which will run between October and December 2021.
High-risk travel pathway
The high-risk pathway will see the continuation of a full 14 days in MIQ and testing for unvaccinated travellers and any traveller, including vaccinated travellers, who have been in very high risk or high risk countries.
We will spend the rest of 2021 preparing for this approach
This individual risk-based approach requires new systems to be set up. We will use the remainder of 2021 to continue to prepare for the operation of borders under this system.
This work includes ongoing work on the development of a traveller health declaration system, investigating new testing technology for rapid testing on arrival at airports and reliable pre-departure testing as well as piloting self-isolation arrangements for some New Zealanders and strengthening other public health measures such as contact tracing.
New Zealand remains in a strong position. We don’t have COVID-19 in the community and our economy is more open than most.
Our plan to reopen our borders both protects the gains we have won, while setting us up to safely reconnect New Zealanders and business with the world and seize the opportunities created by our COVID success.