New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said her government will explore more travel “bubbles” and lead trade delegations later this year to reconnect with a post-pandemic world.
With a majority of New Zealand’s essential workers vaccinated against COVID-19 and inoculation for the wider population set to start in July, Ardern said on Thursday that her government was now ready to rebuild contact with the rest of the world.
Ardern’s plan for a partial and phased reopening comes after more than a year of a tough border closure, which has helped New Zealand – a Pacific nation of five million people – eliminate the coronavirus within its borders.
The first step in New Zealand’s re-opening was a “travel bubble” with Australia, which began last month.
Ardern said her government will also allow quarantine free travel with South Pacific’s Cook Islands on Monday.
“In this phase, where vaccine roll out in New Zealand is incomplete, the number of countries we can safely open up to is limited,” the prime minister said in a pre-budget speech in Auckland.
“That’s because they need to hold the same status as us, or pose the same low risk of bringing COVID into the country.
“Niue is the natural next addition. Beyond that we are relatively open-minded, and I do anticipate there will be other countries we can explore opportunities with,” she said.
More than 70,000 people have landed in New Zealand from Australia since the travel bubble opened last month, and more than 57,000 have travelled the other way, Ardern said.
However, she noted the vaccine roll out in New Zealand was incomplete and the number of countries it could safely open up to limited.
The government intends to administer more than one million doses of the COVID-19 jab by June, Ardern said and expand the inoculation programme to every New Zealander over the age of 16 by July.
The prime minister also said she will lead a trade and promotional delegation to Australia in early July, her first since the emergence of COVID-19 and will also look to lead delegations into Europe, the United States, China and the wider Asia-Pacific.
“These trips may not have been overly notable pre-COVID, but they are hugely significant in light of the domestic realities we’ve been experiencing, and the global ones that still persist,” Ardern said.