PM announces border opening dates for visitors and tourists

New Zealand is to open its doors to vaccinated Australians from 11.59pm April 12, and from late May 1 for those from visa waiver countries and people with valid visitor visas.

International arrivals gate

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement on Wednesday.

"Our border has already opened to New Zealanders around the world and on Monday critical and skilled workers also became eligible to enter without isolation.

"We have now received guidance it is now safe to significantly bring forward the next stage of border reopening work - to bring back our tourists," she said.

"We are ready to welcome the world back."

Arden said bringing Australians in from April 13 would be in line with their school holidays and be in time for the New Zealand ski season.

"Closing our border was one of the first actions we took to stop Covid-19 two years ago," Ardern said. "It did the job we needed. But now that we’re highly vaccinated and predicted to be off our Omicron peak, it’s now safe to open up."

"We know that traveller numbers will be below pre-Covid levels for awhile and tourism globally will take time to rebound, but today’s announcement means we’re ready to go, so haere mai welcome back."

She warned visitors to be prepared should they test positive for Covid while they're in New Zealand and have to isolate for a week.

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles told 1News the decision to reopen the border to travellers was a "very pragmatic thing".

"You're as much at risk of getting Covid inside New Zealand as you are from somebody coming from outside," she said.

"That risk will change all the time. We know at the moment that our case numbers here are high but they're low in other places, whereas parts of Europe are starting another wave so in a month's time, it may be really, really different."

Wiles added that it's important that we have in place "all of the kind of surveillance that we need" as we prepare to reopen our borders "to know what is happening in New Zealand, what variants we have here, how the virus is playing out".

"People are moving to the 'it's endemic' stage, therefore we just forget about it. Actually, it's still a deadly disease and we need to understand where it is, how people are faring with it, what antibody levels are looking like, what hospitalisations are looking like and we only really do that by having good surveillance studies in place.

"There’s no going back to 2019; that world doesn’t exist anymore."

In the year ended March 2020, international tourism expenditure reached $17.5 billion, contributing 20.1% to NZ's total exports of goods and services.

Visitor arrivals totalled 3.65 million, with 1.8 million of them holiday visitors.

Tourists will still need a negative pre-departure test, and to test on arrival and on day 5.

Visa waiver countries include the likes of the UK, US, Japan, Mexico and Singapore.

Returning vaccinated Kiwis living in Australia and around the world are already able to enter New Zealand.

The gates have been shut to overseas tourists since 2020, other than last year's short-lived trans-Tasman bubble.

The last estimated date from the Government for vaccinated travellers from Australia and visa-waiver countries was July 2022, with October 2022 for the rest of the world.

The Queenstown Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday's announcement meant Australians can book winter holidays with confidence, and will allow businesses to ramp up over the shoulder season.

It called on kickstart funding to allow businesses to ramp up, the removal of vaccine passes given overseas tourists need to be vaccinated, and a lifting of gathering numbers to support events and conferences.

Ardern said Cabinet would be considering things like vaccine passes and mandates shortly.