New Zealand, known for its strict approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, is slowly beginning to let the outside world back into its borders.
Chris Hipkins, the government minister for COVID-19 response, outlined the first steps of the country's reopening in a Thursday press conference, as CNN reported. Pacific Islanders, including those from Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu, will be the first granted entry into New Zealand without having to quarantine upon arrival from November 8.
"It's time we reopened to the world," Hipkins said, as reported by CNN. "We can't remain shut behind the walls of Fortress New Zealand."
Vaccinated foreign arrivals from other countries will still have to quarantine but the period has been reduced from 14 days to seven from November 14, according to Reuters. But even those that endure quarantine won't find the same New Zealand that existed before the pandemic upon their exit.
COVID-19 outbreaks in some areas of the country have prompted officials to issue restrictions on movement and activities, as Hipkins outlined in an October 27 press conference. New Zealand is working towards a 90% fully vaccinated rate for residents before it ends the strictest lockdown measures, according to Reuters.
Australia, with which New Zealand maintains close ties, was left out of the first quarantine-free travel list despite similarly strict policies that have seen states and territories in and out of lockdowns since March 2020.
"On 17 September 2021, the Government suspended quarantine-free travel with Australia for a further 8 weeks," the New Zealand government said. "This is due to the current Delta outbreaks."
New Zealand will review the status of the travel bubble in "mid-to-late November" but cited outbreaks in both Australia and at home.
Unvaccinated non-citizen travelers will not be allowed into New Zealand from November 1, according to the government. Travelers using Air New Zealand from February 1, 2022, will need to be vaccinated on both domestic and international flights.
It's unclear when New Zealand will open its borders to more countries without a quarantine requirement, including the US.
Hawaiian Airlines and American Airlines were the only two US carriers serving New Zealand prior to the pandemic, offering non-stop flights from Honolulu and Los Angeles, respectively. American had planned to connect Dallas and Auckland, as well as Los Angeles and Christchurch, with new flights in 2022, according to RoutesOnline, but pandemic restrictions saw the flights taken off of the airline's schedule.
And with the slow-going pace of New Zealand fully ridding itself of pandemic restrictions, Americans planning a vacation can expect to hold off a while longer.