New Zealand plans to allow most fully vaccinated travelers into the country by the end of April without a mandatory hotel quarantine, as it slowly emerges from what has been one of the world’s longest lockdowns.
But those entering the country next year will face significant restrictions, with a mandatory seven-day home isolation period, as well as tests on departure and arrival. The border will open in stages to different countries, with fully vaccinated New Zealanders and visa holders able to travel from Australia from Jan. 16 and from elsewhere in the world starting Feb. 13. Foreign nationals will follow from April 30.
Experts have for weeks questioned the need for requiring new arrivals to quarantine when the virus is already in the community, and experts say international arrivals seem to pose no additional risk. No fully vaccinated travelers from Australia, for example, have tested positive in New Zealand’s hotel quarantine system since Aug. 23.
Some 84 percent of people in New Zealand age 12 and up are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. And representatives from the country’s tourism industry, which has struggled to contend with the long absence of foreign visitors, decried the seven-day isolation requirement.
New Zealand has been on edge since August, when an outbreak of the Delta variant erupted in Auckland and put an end to the country’s “zero Covid” approach.
“It’s very encouraging that we as a country are now in a position to move towards greater normality,” Chris Hipkins, the minister responsible for New Zealand’s pandemic response, said at a news conference on Wednesday. “I do want to emphasize, though, that travel in 2022 won’t necessarily be exactly the same as it was in pre-2020 travel.”
For over a year, New Zealand has operated a lottery system for citizens and permanent residents who want to return, locking people out of the country and creating a large backlog. The system has faced legal challenges from people desperate to return home from overseas and be reunited with their families.
New Zealand is waiting until April to fully open to permit time for airlines to plan, he said, as well as to allow a transition to the country’s new “traffic light” pandemic management system that starts Dec. 2. That system will end lockdowns and place significant restrictions on the unvaccinated, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced at a news conference on Monday.
On Dec. 15, Auckland — where the country’s outbreak is concentrated — will open its border to the rest of the country.
Before the pandemic, tourism was a big part of the New Zealand economy, employing nearly 230,000 people and contributing 41.9 billion New Zealand dollars ($30.2 billion) a year. About 3.8 million foreign tourists visited between 2018 and 2019, with the majority coming from Australia. Though domestic tourism has surged while borders have been closed, the industry has struggled to make up its losses, as international tourists spend about three times as much per person as their domestic peers.
Defending New Zealand’s caution, Mr. Hipkins pointed to the new virus wave that is crashing through Europe. “As we move into 2022, we know that the pandemic is not over,” he said. “It’s not going to suddenly end, and we only need to look at Europe to know that the path out of the pandemic is not a straightforward one.”
In today’s edition of the Morning newsletter, David Leonhardt explains rapid Covid-19 tests, which have not been as readily available in the U.S. as they have elsewhere around the world. He writes:
If the U.S. government had done a better job making rapid Covid-19 tests available, the advice for how to use them this holiday weekend would be easy: Take one at the start of every day when you planned to spend time with people outside your household.
That approach is possible in other countries. In Britain, pharmacies offer free packs of seven tests that people can take at home. In Germany, rapid tests are also widely available and mostly free. In this country, the situation is different, largely because the F.D.A. has been slow to approve the tests.
The Biden administration has not been as aggressive in fixing the situation as it could have been, but it has made progress. A couple of months ago, tests were often impossible to find. Now, they are sporadically available at many stores. Friends and family around the country have told me this week that they have usually been able to find a test after looking in enough places.
The tests are not free, however. They typically cost about $25 for a pack of two. The combination of their cost and irregular availability means that Americans interested in rapid tests often must make choices about when to use them.
“Rapid tests can help reduce worries about gathering with loved ones for the holidays,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, told me. Nuzzo’s immediate family plans to take tests on Thanksgiving, before going over to their hosts’ for the meal. So do I.
Even with the limitations of rapid testing in the U.S., the tests can play an important role in slowing the spread of the virus. And the situation does seem to be improving. The F.D.A. approved three more tests this week, and the Biden administration continues to spend more to expand their availability.
By Christmas and New Year, tests should be easier to find than they are this week.
Europe’s death toll from Covid will exceed two million people by next spring, the World Health Organization projected on Tuesday, adding that the continent remained “firmly in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Covid is now the leading cause of death in Europe, the agency said in a statement, with almost 4,200 new deaths a day, double the number at the end of September. To date, Europe, including Britain and Russia, has reported 1.5 million deaths. Between now and spring, hospital beds in 25 countries and intensive care units in 49 countries are predicted to experience “high or extreme stress,” the W.H.O. said.
Dr. Hans Kluge, a regional director for the W.H.O., said Europe faced a challenging winter. “In order to live with this virus and continue our daily lives, we need to take a ‘vaccine plus’ approach,” he said.
That means getting vaccinations or booster shots if offered and taking other preventive measures to avoid the reimposing of lockdowns, like calling on the public to wear masks and maintain physical distance, he said.
Over a billion vaccine doses have been administered in Europe; about 53 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. But countries have gaping disparities in vaccination rates, the organization said, and it was essential to drive the lagging rates up, the officials said.
In recent days, European countries have imposed restrictions to try to curb the highest surge of new cases in the region since the pandemic began. Austria began its fourth lockdown on Monday, and Germany is pressuring its citizens to get vaccinated. Slovakia, Liechtenstein and the Czech Republic have the world’s highest rates of new cases in proportion to their populations.
The W.H.O. considers Europe to include not only the countries of the European Union, but also Britain, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and several countries in the Balkans and Central Asia.
After a steady decline since mid-September, coronavirus cases are once again rising in most of the United States. New cases have increased by 25 percent nationally in the past two…