The requirement to self-isolate will be lifted for fully vaccinated New Zealanders returning home from Australia from 11.59pm tomorrow and New Zealanders in the rest of the world from 11.59pm on Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday.
The changes - two years after Covid-19 was first detected in New Zealand - spell the beginning of the end of the often controversial managed isolation and quarantine system and self-isolation for travellers, although MIQ will still be used for unvaccinated travellers.
Other visa holders, including temporary work and student visa holders, will be able to come in from April 13.
The Cabinet would review the timing of the remaining steps in coming weeks, Ms Ardern said.
On changes to allow tourists in, Ms Ardern said the early feedback from experts was that the country was still in the middle of Omicron and waiting to reach the peak.
Welcoming home New Zealanders would have little impact but tens of thousands of travellers would, she said.
All travellers would need to do a predeparture test, and would be required to take a rapid antigen test the day the arrived and on day five/six after arrival.
The Government had sought advice on how long that measure would be needed, she said.
Queenstown Airport chief executive Glen Sowry said the removal of self-isolation for Australian visitors was the vital next step for the country and the lower South Island.
"If the health risk posed by Kiwis in Australia has been deemed acceptable, then it would follow that Australians, who adhere to the vaccination and testing requirements in place for international travel, do not pose any greater risk."
While the self-isolation requirement for Australians remained in place there would not be adequate demand for the airlines to resume direct flights from Australia to Queenstown, which would have a significant effect on the winter season, he said.
He urged the Government to provide certainty so Australians could plan trips for the ski season.
NZSki chief executive officer Paul Anderson said while there was still short-term pain ahead for tourism and hospitality businesses, the medium-term prognosis would be good if things could be brought forward to allow international visitors sooner.
Allowing Australians to visit before the July school holidays without isolating and Australians on working holiday visas to be able to arrive from this month would help immensely.
Travel agents busy
In Dunedin, travel agents were having a busy day. House of Travel Dunedin owner Tony Boomer said the news was a "massive bloody relief".
It had been a long road over the past two years, and yesterday’s "exciting" news had left him emotional.
Business had been up the past few weeks, as since border regulations were eased earlier in the year customers had been assuming less restrictive rules would follow.
He was "flat out" when the Otago Daily Times called about an hour after yesterday’s announcement.
Dunedin man and Grounded Kiwis spokesman Martin Newell, who lives in Melbourne, said feedback from group members after the announcement was that people felt "a bit misty-eyed".
The group had been advocating for a way to allow New Zealanders to return home for the past six months.
Personally, he was looking forward to bringing his children home to see family in Dunedin.
He had started looking at flights, which he said were reasonably limited yesterday, but he expected more would be added soon.
- additional reporting The New Zealand Herald