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New Zealand Government to open Auckland border from 15th December

New Zealand Government to open Auckland border from 15th December
November 17, 2021

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has today advised of an easing of COVID-19 Alert measures in Auckland that will allow residents of the country’s largest city to travel beyond its boundaries from 15th December if they are vaccinated or have a negative test.

The lifting of Auckland’s cordon will allow Christmas travel, by which time the entire country will have moved into the less restrictive ‘traffic light’ system.

Ending weeks of speculation about how the busy Christmas period would be managed after having promised that months of lockdown restrictions would end for summer, Prime Minister Ardern announced “this may be our toughest period to date ... while I know there will be some who will think our moves (are) too fast, others too slow, I have no doubt that it is the best plan to keep us as safe and free as possible, to transition us safely to a new way of managing COVID.”

The city, home to a third of New Zealand’s five million people, is close to achieving 90% of its eligible population being fully vaccinated.

From 15th December, fully vaccinated people will be able to travel across the Auckland border freely. People who are unvaccinated will only be able to leave Auckland if they receive a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to departure but there will be no similar restriction on unvaccinated people entering Auckland.

Police will conduct ‘random spot checks’ to enforce this rule.

Proof of vaccination will be via ‘My Vaccine Pass’, with details of how they will work having been only announced late yesterday.

Being made available to the more than 3.4 million New Zealanders who are fully vaccinated, the passes can be downloaded to a mobile device or printed out.

They can then be used to attend hospitality settings, retail establishments, community and sporting events, religious gatherings and other functions. Vaccination status isn’t required at supermarkets, pharmacies, health services and other essential establishments.

Prime Minister Ardern’s decision to move the entire country into the traffic light system “soon after” 29th November means her Government has effectively abandoned its target of reaching 90% vaccination across each district health board before making the shift.

Under the ‘red’ setting, hospitality venues, public facilities, events, and other close contact businesses will be able to open with gathering limits of 100 people, if the facility uses the vaccine certification system and excludes non-vaccinated people.

Working from home will be encouraged, and schools and early education facilities will remain open.

Under the ‘orange’ setting, there will be no gathering limits on hospitality venues, public facilities, and other locations and events if the vaccine certification system is used.

If the certification system is not used, close contact businesses, gyms, and other events will not be able to go ahead, hospitality venues will have to operate with contactless transactions, and gatherings such as weddings will be limited to 50 people.

Prime Minister Ardern said the country needed to move cautiously into the new vaccination framework, noting “for a vaccinated individual, they will notice very few differences between green and those other levels - orange in particular - if you are vaccinated, you are able to do most, if not all, of the things that you generally enjoy.”

For the Auckland border, travellers will be checked for their vaccine certificate or negative COVID-19 test when they check in at the airport. Air New Zealand has said the same restrictions will be placed on domestic flights, elsewhere in the country, from mid-December.

Police will issue a $1000 infringement fine to any rule breakers while also working with iwi at Auckland’s northern border “to ensure people can move but also that the people of Northland have confidence in the checks that are in place”.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) said the announcement that the Auckland boundary restrictions will be eased before Christmas is the first glimmer of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel for tourism operators both in the city and right around the country.

Commenting that the easing will be a huge relief to accommodation providers, transport operators, tourism activities, attractions and retailers who have been suffering the loss of their largest domestic market, TIA Chief Executive, Chris Roberts stated “it is also fantastic that family and friends across New Zealand will be able to get together at Christmas and New Year – provided that are double vaccinated.

“The impact on Auckland businesses from being in lockdown is brutal and obvious. But it has also gutted tourism and travel activity right around New Zealand.

“As our largest centre of population, Auckland has a huge influence on domestic travel around the country. Just one example was the immediate and dramatic reduction in the number of visitors in Queenstown when Auckland's borders closed.”

Roberts noted that Auckland’s tourism operators, after three months of closure, will also be ready to welcome fully vaccinated visitors to the region, as well as Auckland residents.

The tourism industry is now eagerly awaiting decisions on loosening restrictions on New Zealand’s international borders, which Prime Minister Ardern said would be announced “in due course”.

Roberts warned “the world is opening up and New Zealand risks being ignored and left out if we don’t signal to international markets very soon when safe travellers will be welcomed back to our shores.”

Images: Auckland by night (top, credit: CINZ), the My Vaccine Pass (middle) and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (below).

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