New Zealand’s borders have been fully reopened as the latest Covid restrictions were lifted

New Zealand’s borders have been fully reopened as the latest Covid restrictions were lifted

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New Zealand’s borders are fully open for the first time since they were abruptly closed in March 2020 to keep Covid-19 out.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the nation was “open for business” after the final phase of the phased reopening, which began in April, completed on Sunday night.

Visitors from around the world will be allowed back into New Zealand, including those arriving by sea, those on student visas and those from visa-free countries such as China and India.

Ardern, speaking at the China Business Summit on Monday morning, said the reopening was “a tremendous moment”.

“Since February, it’s been a phased and cautious process on our part as we continue to navigate a very vibrant global pandemic, along with the rest of the world, while keeping our people safe,” she said.

Related: “Many tears of joy”: Joy as New Zealand opens the border after two years of isolation

“New Zealanders are hosts. manaaki tanga [hospitality] runs through our veins and we open our arms to tourists and students, including from China, which prior to 2020 was New Zealand’s largest source of international students and second largest source of tourists.

“For those who want to make their journey here, haere mai, we welcome you.”

Cruise ships and foreign leisure yachts are also allowed to dock in the country’s ports. Tourism Secretary Stuart Nash said the return of cruise ships, whose guests spent NZ$365 million ashore a year before the pandemic, is a big boost to the local economy.

“Most cruise visits occur during the warmer months of October through April… There will be full force for the industry, which can certainly plan for the rest of the year and beyond,” Nash said in a statement.

Tourism traders, businesses and education providers have welcomed the news, despite predictions from Immigration New Zealand that visitors will be trickling in rather than pouring in over the next few months.

“I think it’s safe to say that we don’t expect the same level of demand as we did before Covid. There are probably a number of reasons for that,” Immigration New Zealand’s Simon Sanders told national broadcaster RNZ.

“We know that China, which is a larger country that requires a visitor’s visa, is still subject to a number of travel restrictions, so we don’t expect much demand from there, at least initially.”

He encouraged students with study offers to apply for their visas immediately and urged those who wish to study in 2023 to wait a few months “so that we can ensure that those who need to travel this year can do so”.

The full reopening comes at the same time that New Zealand is among the top seven countries in the world in terms of average daily confirmed Covid cases per 100,000 people, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

A University of Auckland study published last week warned that reopening the border could see the number of foreign-origin Covid-19 cases quadruple – and that could further strain the already creaking healthcare system.

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