New Zealand could again delay border reopening due to Omicron

The border has been closed to non-residents since March 2020 PHOTO: REUTERS

WELLINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - New Zealand is reviewing whether to begin a phased reopening of its border next month as it rushes to administer booster vaccination shots before the Omicron variant of coronavirus takes hold in the community.

"We want to give New Zealanders time to get their boosters," Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters Wednesday (Jan 19) in New Plymouth. "We will be moving to a self-isolation model, the question is exactly what the date is."

The government has already pushed back the border reopening once, moving the start date from mid-January to the end of February amid fears the highly contagious Omicron strain will run rampant through the population as it has done in neighbouring Australia.

While 93 per cent of people aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated, booster shots that provide greater protection against Omicron were only made available this month.

The border has been closed to non-residents since March 2020, squeezing the supply of foreign labour to key export industries such as dairy and fruit farming.

Currently, arriving citizens must apply for a limited number of places in managed isolation facilities, where infections are caught, but the government has now stopped offering new spots amid a surge in the number of people arriving with Omicron.

The plan is to initially allow New Zealanders returning from Australia to self isolate, then progressively extend that to other countries and nationalities.

"We want to keep Omicron out of the community," Mr Hipkins said. "Our plan is to move to self-isolation" for arrivals and "that's exactly what we are working towards. We've still got decisions to make about the end of February date and whether there are any changes to that."

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