That’s the latest advice from the Government’s advisory group.
OPINION: It’s an indicative date, but it’s a date nonetheless. After more than a year of speculation on when Fortress New Zealand might reopen to the world and let Kiwis travel again, the Government has finally set out how the country plans to relax its border controls from the first quarter of 2022.
At this point, information on where Kiwis will be able to travel to, and when exactly, is very vague.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday the Government would take a phased-approach to reopening the border once there is good vaccination coverage in the New Year. The planned “risk-based pathway system” of travel which will see countries labelled as low-, medium- or high-risk.
“Factors considered will be the number of cases, prevalence, the variants of concern, vaccination rates and our confidence in the countries’ strategies for containing outbreaks.”
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Ardern said a country’s risk level will play a big part in determining the pathway for arrival into New Zealand.
Vaccinated travellers from destinations deemed low-risk would be able to skip isolation entirely, while those from medium-risk counties would self-isolate, spend a shorter time in managed isolation or combine the two (a trial will help determine how this would actually work). Unvaccinated travellers and those from high-risk places would have to spend 14 days in managed isolation.
The expert panel which advised the Government on the reopening recommend that travel should initially be restricted to vaccinated citizens and permanent residents travelling to low- and medium-risk areas for up to a month.
As the Government has not yet revealed which destinations will fall into each risk category, it’s too early to say which we’ll be allowed to visit without having to quarantine upon return. And, as the havoc the Delta strain of the Covid-19 virus is wreaking across the ditch has reminded us, the situation can change incredibly rapidly.
Here, we take a look at some of the places Kiwis might be able to travel to in 2022 all going well. Plus a few wild cards.
It mightn’t sound like an appealing place to visit right now, but the Government plans to re-inflate the trans-Tasman bubble as soon as it deems it safe to do so. Travel is set to resume next month after an eight-week suspension, but Covid-19 modelling expert Shaun Hendy has said that looks nigh on impossible given tightened restrictions to contain the delta variant in New South Wales don’t seem to be working.
“I think we do need to assume that the outbreak is going to be persistent for some time,” he told RNZ. “It may grow to become considerably larger, that puts other states at risk in Australia, and so it probably means the end of the travel bubble.”
Hendy said the government could look to inflate bubbles with states which prove they have managed to keep the virus out long-term.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the government had not ruled anything out regarding the bubble. Travel to Australia will look different when it resumes, with vaccinations likely to play a bigger role.
“It may be that there are vaccine requirements put in place as part of a reopening of safe travel zones… Looking at what’s happening in Australia, it’s still some time away.”
If Australia manages to get the virus under control by 2022 and the bubble reinflates, travellers are still likely to run the risk of finding themselves stranded if an outbreak leads to another pause in travel. The expert group recommends allowing only the vaccinated to make use of quarantine-free travel bubbles once the roll-out in New Zealand is complete.
A breeze of a travel bubble compared to its trans-Tasman counterpart, the Cook Islands arrangement will remain open unless an outbreak leads to a “pause”. As of July 13, 93 per cent of the eligible population had been vaccinated, and the country still hasn’t recorded a single case of Covid-19. If you’re hankering for a tropical break, this is still your safest bet. Again, you’re likely to need to be vaccinated to take advantage of the bubble from 2022.
With most of its population vaccinated, this idiosyncratic Pacific isle is likely to be the next overseas destination to open up to New Zealanders. It is a realm country after all, and has managed to keep Covid out of the country throughout the pandemic.
Prime Minister Ardern has long indicated that a travel bubble with Niue would be a priority, and her Niuean counterpart, Premier Dalton Tagelagi, is also keen. Plus, Niue residents have been allowed to enter New Zealand quarantine-free since March.
Known as “the Rock of Polynesia”, the tiny nation is essentially a lump of coral atop an underwater volcano. In place of the long sandy beaches quintessential to other Pacific Islands, you’ll find deep chasms seemingly built for swimming and snorkelling; a pink- and purple-hued swimming hole once reserved for royalty; and a coconut palm-filled oasis lying at the end of a ladder amid one of the largest exposed coral fields on Earth. Plus humpback whales which swim up from Antarctica to have their babies in winter.
Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu
The Government is keen to establish a travel corridor allowing seasonal workers from these Pacific Island nations to travel to New Zealand without a stay in managed isolation before September, so they’re likely to make the low-risk countries list. Provided, of course, their Covid situation doesn’t change.
If you think one Pacific Island nation is pretty much the same as another, it’s high time you started exploring them properly. These three alone each have their unique charms.
Authentic to the core, Tonga’s generous sprinkling of islands are bound to satisfy your desert island dreams (I highly recommend those in the Ha’apai group), while Vava’u is world-famous for its diving and whale watching. In Samoa, you’ll find enchanted-looking waterfalls galore and the To-Sua Trench, a collapsed ancient lava tube now considered one of the best-looking natural swimming holes in the world.
For Francophiles not yet ready to travel to France, Vanuatu is an excellent choice – although the indigenous culture and natural landscape incorporating deserted beaches and active volcanoes are major drawcards too. Head to Port Vila on the main island of Efate if you like the idea of eating out in top restaurants before returning to a luxury resort, or to outer islands such as Vanua Lava, home to the active Mt Sere Ama volcano, or Espiritu Santo, the inspiration behind James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. New Caledonia is another Pacific Island possibility for travel in 2022.
In late April, Hong Kong hinted that New Zealand could be invited to join a travel bubble with itself and Singapore. The Hong Kong government’s secretary for commerce and economic development, Edward Yau, said that once the bubble with Singapore was in place, Hong Kong hoped to discuss similar arrangements with other countries, including New Zealand.
The Hong Kong-Singapore bubble is yet to eventuate, largely as a result of the rise in cases in Singapore, but that doesn’t mean Hong Kong and New Zealand couldn’t work something out. Back in April, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said New Zealand’s priority was bubbles with the Cook Islands and Niue, but times have changed.
Hong Kong has done a world-class job of stamping out the virus, reporting 12,020 total cases and 212 total deaths. Over the past 28 days, it has reported 67 cases. The Hong Kong Government says 40.9 per cent of its population has received both doses of the vaccine, and 52.9 per cent have received the first dose. If Hong Kong keeps on top off the virus, it’s not impossible that Kiwis could be visiting its shopping and culinary mecca of a city, tropical islands and mountains next year without having to spend two weeks in managed isolation upon their return.
Taiwan did an enviable job of keeping Covid at bay until May 2021, when an outbreak of the virus left it scrambling. It’s got things under control again, with number of new cases dropping from 543 on May 19 to just eight on August 9. If things continue to go well, Taiwan could very well be deemed low- or medium-risk.
It’s low vaccination rate could be an issue though. Taiwan’s Central Epidermic Command Centre said just over 30 per cent of the population had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of July 29, but only 1.3 per cent had received both.
All going well, the land long known as “Ilha Formosa” (the Beautiful Isle) with its thousands of temples, tropical forests and outstanding food scene could make the low- or medium-risk list.
A travel bubble between Australia and Singapore had seemed imminent until both countries began a battle with the Delta variant. Singapore has recorded 3092 new cases over the past 28 days, but is feeling sufficiently in control of the situation to begin easing social distancing restrictions.
Australia’s high commissioner to Singapore, Will Hodgman, told Bloomberg on July 13, that both governments retained a “very strong commitment” to launching a quarantine-free travel bubble, but said it was now more likely to happen towards the end of the year. With both countries still struggling to get the virus under control, however, that could be considered optimistic.
Once the trans-Tasman bubble is back up and running, the Australia-Singapore bubble could effectively include New Zealand too. As things currently stand, travellers from Singapore who had been in Australia for at least 14 days would be able to travel to New Zealand quarantine-free. New Zealanders are already welcome to visit Singapore for leisure purposes, as are travellers from Brunei, Mainland China and Hong Kong.
It’s possible the Government could move to prevent New Zealand becoming part of a three-way bubble with Australia and Singapore, however. The expert group recommends New Zealand stick to the elimination strategy that has served it so well so far, defining it as zero tolerance to new cases rather than full eradication. Even if the Government accepts that some Covid will make its way into the country when border restrictions relax, this approach would make it unlikely to deem a country like Singapore, where Covid is still at large in the community, low risk.
That said, Singapore boasts one of the best vaccination rates in the world, with 70 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, and 79 per cent having received at least one dose.
It’s probably best not to count on hitting up the city-state’s sci-fi-like Gardens By the Bay or world-famous food markets next year unless you’re prepared to enter managed isolation for 14 days when you get back. But, of course, things could change.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had also talked about a travel bubble with Japan before his country succumbed to the current Covid outbreaks, but that too is looking less and less likely to happen anytime soon. While Japan did an admirable job of keeping athletes safe during the recent Olympic Games, Covid is still making waves in the country. Tokyo alone has recorded 71,811 new cases over the past 28 days and just over 30 per cent of the population have been fully vaccinated. Right now, we can’t see it being classified as low- or medium-risk.
China had done an excellent job at stamping out the virus until a late July outbreak of the Delta variant saw it spread to multiple provinces and municipalities. Last Wednesday, the Chinese government reported 71 new cases – the highest daily number since January. Epidemiologist Sir David Skegg, who led the Government advisory panel, said Thursday that while the outbreak is significant, it is “tiny” compared to that places such as Europe are dealing with.
China remains New Zealand’s biggest trade partner, but the New Zealand Government is worried things could change if the country were to take offence when New Zealand speaks out about human rights abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China’s crackdown on democracy advocates in Hong Kong, or its treatment of neighbours in the South China Sea. In addition, New Zealand has joined the US, UK, EU, Britain, Australia, Japan and Canada in blaming Beijing for sponsoring cybercriminal activity around the globe – something China denies.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta told Morning Report in late July that the two countries’ relationship was “maturing”. More specifically, she said New Zealand was “very clear in terms of our expectations of what a maturing relationship looks like, and we have continued to reiterate that while China’s significant relationship for us from a trade perspective, it is maturing”.
Again, the travel situation will largely depend on how well, or otherwise, China gets the virus back under control.
Synonymous with romance and other French specialities, Tahiti and her sister isles are open to vaccinated travellers from countries the French government has coded as “green”, which includes New Zealand. Unvaccinated under-18s can travel freely throughout French Polynesia’s 118 islands when accompanied by a vaccinated parent or guardian.
With French Polynesia experiencing a recent spike in cases, however (5935 in the last 28 days), the New Zealand Government would be unlikely to deem it low risk. If the country gets things under control by 2022, however, there is a chance that it could be classified as low- or medium-risk.
It’s been one of the hardest hit countries in the world by Covid-19 and, even with more than 75 per cent of adults fully vaccinated, the country is still grappling with the virus. Two weeks after “Freedom Day” in England, when all coronavirus-related restrictions came to an end, the UK hasn’t experienced the surge in cases some modellers had predicted.
But that doesn’t mean the UK is out of the woods: It has just recorded the highest daily Covid death toll since March. England has recorded 831,652 new cases over the past 28 days, Scotland 37,853, Northern Ireland 34,893 and Wales 21,684, which gives you a good indication of the scale of the situation over there. The chances of the UK being deemed a low- or medium-risk country look slim to none.
Like the UK, the US has fought a notoriously fierce battle against the virus, recording more than 600,000 deaths. While the country’s vaccination rate was once enviably high, it now sits at around half the population, placing it well below many other countries. With the Delta variant at large, some states have experienced a surge in cases recently and hospitalisations have also been on the up. As with the UK, unless the situation changes drastically, New Zealand is likely to classify it as high risk.
The European Union
European Union Member States have adopted a coordinated approach to Covid-related travel restrictions. Members have agreed to lift travel restrictions for a number of non-EU countries, including New Zealand. New Zealand, however, is unlikely to open its borders to the entire EU at once as the Covid situation differs in each. As of August 10, France had recorded 311,689 new cases over the past 14 days, while Spain had recorded 258,615, Italy 80,087, the Netherlands 40,781, Germany 36,028, Portugal 33,392 and Greece 34,569. Unless things change drastically, EU countries are unlikely to be among the first New Zealand opens up to.