Ardern opens border to foreigners as 'Fortress New Zealand' ends

The end of border restrictions will be a boost for the tourism industry. PHOTO: CHAN BROTHERS GROUP OF COMPANIES

WELLINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - New Zealand will begin reopening its border to the world next month, bringing an end to the "fortress" settings that kept Covid-19 out for much of the pandemic.

Vaccinated Australians will be allowed to enter without needing to isolate upon arrival from 11.59pm on April 12, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday (March 16) in Wellington.

The border will open to visitors from other visa-waiver countries such as Singapore, the United States and Britain from midnight on May 1, she said.

"We're ready to welcome the world back," Ms Ardern told a news conference.

She slammed the border shut two years ago, allowing only citizens to enter and only via managed isolation facilities to ensure they did not carry the virus into the local community.

The so-called "Fortress New Zealand" largely succeeded in keeping Covid-19 at bay - until the arrival of the highly infectious Omicron variant, which is now spreading rapidly through the population.

The border has already been fully reopened to New Zealanders, who can enter from anywhere in the world without needing to isolate.

All travellers still need to provide negative pre-departure tests and undertake two antigen rapid tests within the first week of arrival.

The end of border restrictions will be a boost for the tourism industry - once the nation's biggest export earner - which has been decimated by the two-year absence of foreign visitors.

The closed border also cut the supply of migrant labour and created a worker shortage that is impeding economic activity, driving up wages and fuelling inflation.

"Reopening in time for the upcoming Australian school holidays will help spur our economic recovery in the short term and is good news for the winter ski season," Ms Ardern said.

"I am proud that New Zealand is a country able in this moment in time to provide a safe place for our tourists to return to." 

More than 95 per cent of people aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated and more than 70 per cent of adults have had a booster shot. So far, the pandemic death toll is just 117.

Previously, the border was due to open to Australians by July and to all other tourists by October.

Ms Ardern said no decision has been made yet on when migrants or visitors from countries that require a visa, such as China, will be permitted to enter.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.