Covid-19: PM suggests date for reopening borders could be compromised due to Omicron

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has indicated that the start date for allowing returnees to skip Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) could be at risk due to the Omicron variant.

Fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens and residents returning from Australia are believed to be able to bypass MIQ and self-isolate for seven days starting January 17, the government announced last month.

Those returning from other countries could do the same from February 14, while the border would begin to open to all fully vaccinated arrivals – and not just citizens or residents – from April 30.

New Zealand citizens and residents can return from Australia without having to enter MIQ from January 17.


New Zealand citizens and residents can return from Australia without having to enter MIQ from January 17.

Announcing the plan on November 24, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins assured travelers that the first two dates had been ‘on lockdown’.

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However, just days after the announcement, the World Health Organization said a worrying new variant, Omicron, had emerged.

New Zealand responded by adding nine southern African countries to the “very high risk” list, meaning only citizens can come back.

While Ardern initially said it was too early to say how Omicron would affect the plan to reopen the borders, she signaled on Monday that they would seek the final advice on the variant from the Department of Health in early January.

“This recording will confirm that we remain comfortable with this next step in our reconnection work,” she said.

Ardern said that while she did not want to anticipate the decision, she stressed at this point that they had not changed their plans or the deadlines they had set.

But she would not rule out postponing the dates either.

“I think it’s unrealistic of us to say that there is a plan and we won’t come up with it, despite what the evidence tells us about Omicron,” she said.

“We need to see… and hear what the evidence tells us, and the impact that will likely have on New Zealand.”

Countries around the world have been forced to respond to Omicron, in some cases reimposing self-isolation requirements that had just been removed, she said.

New Zealand still having an MIQ in place meant that there had been a “layer of protection” at the border against the new variant.

“We are one of the countries that has had the least to do because we have already put measures in place.”

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