In a speech Thursday morning, Ardern said the government would step up New Zealand’s vaccination program against Covid-19 with a view to a gradual reopening. “Our ultimate goal is to allow all vaccinated travelers to travel without quarantine. And what you can see from today is that our direction and ambition is clear. But we just aren’t able to fully reopen just yet, ”Ardern said. .
New Zealand has recorded one of the lowest Covid-19 infection rates among developed countries. Out of a population of nearly 5 million people, it has diagnosed less than 3,000 cases of Covid-19 and only 26 deaths.
In his speech, Ardern attributed the low case rate in part to the decision to close New Zealand’s borders to all non-residents in March 2020. New Zealand has enforced mandatory 14-day quarantine rules , limiting the number of citizens who can enter the country since April. 2020.
“If New Zealand had been hit as hard as the UK or the US, almost 10,000 Kiwis would have died,” Ardern said.
But intransigent border controls have also left the pacific island nation relatively isolated and cut off from the rest of the world, which Ardern appeared to recognize on Thursday.
“We cannot maintain border restrictions indefinitely, and to be absolutely clear, we don’t want to either, and neither do the experts we talk to. Closing the borders has only ever been a temporary measure to keep Covid out before a vaccine has been developed and administered, ”Ardern said.
“As long as the scientific evidence shows that we can safely move from border defense to individual vaccine armor, this is the direction we will take,” she added.
As part of the reopening, Ardern announced that New Zealand will aim to implement a risk-based tiered system to enter the country from early 2022.
“A cautious approach that says there won’t be zero cases, but when there is one in the community we crush it, is the best way to keep our lives normal while we watch for the twists and turns of Covid. -19 over the next six months, ”Ardern said.
According to a New Zealand government statement, under the new system, vaccinated travelers from high-risk countries should still be quarantined in a managed facility for 14 days, but those from medium-risk countries may have reduced quarantine or be allowed to quarantine. isolate, while those from low-risk countries would be allowed in without having to self-quarantine.
New Zealand has yet to announce which countries would be classified as low, medium or high risk.
At the same time, the government has said it will advance vaccination deadlines. The government statement said New Zealand will also test a program allowing some returning travelers to isolate themselves at home between October and December of this year.
Ardern’s announcement comes as neighboring Australia continues to grapple with a number of outbreaks of the Covid-19 Delta variant, which has sent Sydney and Melbourne into prolonged lockdowns. The Australian capital of Canberra announced on Thursday that it will also begin a weeklong lockdown after a case of Covid-19 is detected in the city.
In his speech on Thursday, Ardern made it clear that New Zealand was not going to abandon its policy of targeting zero cases of Covid-19 despite the increase in vaccinations. Some countries, including Singapore, have announced plans in recent months to move from zero Covid to a risk reduction strategy, aimed at reducing deaths and hospitalizations rather than overall infections.
But Ardern said New Zealand could not allow an outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19 like the one currently unfolding in neighboring Australia.
“Principle number one will remain … maintaining our elimination strategy to eradicate the virus, so that we can maintain our hard-earned gains and keep our options open,” she said.