New Zealand to reopen border next month
Tourists will start returning two years after the country was closed off by the pandemic
Mōrena and welcome to The Bulletin for Thursday, March 17, by Justin Giovannetti. Presented in partnership with Z Energy.
In today’s edition: Free rapid tests in schools; Willis takes over National’s finance role; a worsening situation in Ukraine; but first, the border opening is moved forward.
An Air New Zealand plane at Sydney international airport. (James Morgan/Getty Images)
'We’re ready to welcome the world back.’
For the first time since last year’s short-lived trans-Tasman bubble, vaccinated Australian tourists will be allowed to enter the country from April 13. Tourists from visa-waiver countries like the US, UK and Japan will follow on May 2. There will be no requirement to isolate on arrival, but all travellers will be provided with rapid tests and will need to swab on arrival and five or six days later. Unveiling the reopening plan, prime minister Jacinda Ardern laid out a rough sketch of what the future of travel to Aotearoa will look like. The Spinoff’s live updates covered the announcement.
It’s a relief for a tourism industry that now has a firm plan for 2022.
Tourism was New Zealand’s largest export industry in the pre-Covid world, accounting for over 20% of exports and billions of dollars in receipts. Tourism minister Stuart Nash warned that it could take five years for the industry to return to what it was, but he expects travellers will start flying soon. The opening with Australia coincides with school holidays there and the winter ski season that will follow here. The NZ Herald (paywalled) spoke with tourism operators who expressed enormous relief, but say they’ll still need government relief until big spending tourists from the northern hemisphere return.
Ardern said the country’s success during the first year of Covid has burnished its reputation and will bring more travellers: “We will be a sought-after market. We’re known internationally not just as clean and green, but now as safe”. New Zealand was added to the US government’s warning list last week because of the very large number of omicron cases here. On a per capita basis, Aotearoa has about 40 times more cases than the US right now.
Delay until later in 2022 for travellers from the rest of the world.
The opposition has been critical of the delay for reopening to non-visa waiver countries, notably India and China. The current plan is for travellers from those countries to return by October at the latest. As reported in the NZ Herald, those countries will need to wait. The reason given by the prime minister is delays at Immigration New Zealand, which doesn’t have the visa processing capacity yet to welcome tourists.
Gold-standard surveillance at the border: PM.
The situation for arrivals will echo biosecurity, according to Ardern. Any positive case from a rapid test will undergo genomic sequencing to keep tabs on new variants. It also seems likely tourists won’t need to worry about vaccine passes or mandates at restaurants during their travels as the prime minister hinted strongly that those restrictions could face an end at cabinet as soon as next week. The restrictions themselves could last a bit longer. RNZ has some details about the PM’s future plans. “The role of vaccine passes, once we’ve come through that first wave, changes,” said Ardern.
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Schools to get free rapid tests for symptomatic students.
About one million rapid tests will be sent to schools in the coming days as the government pivots on part of its testing strategy. Students who develop symptoms will now be able to get a test in class, instead of going to a testing centre. As RNZ reports, the tests are expected to help educators keep schools, kura and early learning centres open. With omicron still spreading—the Covid minister couldn’t make the announcement yesterday because he tested positive for Covid—the country’s hospital system is now facing extreme demand. According to Newsroom, only four ICU beds were available across Aotearoa earlier this week. ICU specialists told reporter Marc Daalder that the government continues to vastly overestimate the number of available beds.
Nicola Willis takes National’s finance portfolio after Bridges departure.
Following Simon Bridges’ decision earlier this week to leave politics, National’s deputy leader has added the party’s finance role to her jobs. Bridges had been hammering the government on the cost of living crisis and tangling with finance minister Grant Robertson before he stepped down. Willis had focused on the housing portfolio and backing Christopher Luxon. As Stuff reports, Chris Bishop now picks up the housing role and Bridges’ old seat in the house. Sitting closer to the speaker, Bishop ran into problems in the house from his new perch. Trevor Mallard found him too loud. If you’re looking for a listen, Bridges spoke to the Gone by Lunchtime podcast about why he stepped down.
A warning that vegetables could soon be ‘priced off’ the table in NZ.
Horticulture New Zealand is looking to the government to reduce costs on produce growers. RNZ reports that the growing global price of fertilisers, as well as increased costs domestically, mean growing many vegetables has become uneconomical. Increased prices could mean many families can no longer afford nutritious veggies. It’s the latest sign of a number of cost pressures across the economy. In a series looking at inflation, the NZ Herald has found the one thing in Aotearoa that doesn’t seem to be increasing wildly: rents.
The war in Ukraine could be a turning point in the west’s relationship with China.
New Zealand’s biggest trading partner is finding itself in an increasingly complicated position as the Russian invasion of Ukraine stumbles on. There have been reports from American intelligence that China has decided to help Russia with military and economic aid. Allegations that China denies. However, China is simultaneously backing bizarre Russian claims that the US was supporting a biological weapons programme in Ukraine. Al Jazeera reports that China now faces questions of whether it will support its ally in Moscow and be hit by sanctions, or back away. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern sidestepped questions of whether New Zealand would be prepared to add China to its new sanctions regime. The country’s refugee policy is now coming under more scrutiny, writes Geoffrey Miller as New Zealand falls behind the EU and Canada’s efforts to help displaced Ukrainians.
Rapid grocery deliveries in New Zealand could come at a heavy cost.
In many of the world’s largest cities you can now tap a grocery order into your phone and have it delivered within 20 minutes. That’s not happening in New Zealand, but could be coming soon. Writing for IRL, Shanti Mathias investigates whether it should. It’s a complicated story and it really comes down to how inefficient getting around our sprawling cities has become.
Josie Adams talks to the guys behind Trillionaire Thugs about what on earth they’re up to. Alex Casey looks back at the media journey of Dug the Potato, a good news story that brightened our lives. Simon Day (partnership) writes about finding the balance between staying connected and switching off. Charlotte Muru-Lanning (partnership) discovers the community composting hub in Hobsonville Point.
New Zealand has a spot on Sail GP’s calendar in 2023.
Lyttelton will host races on March 18 and 19, 2023, the series has confirmed. RNZ reports that it is set to be the first in a four-year deal that will see races alternate between Christchurch and Auckland. An event had been planned for January this year, but was cancelled due to MIQ. It’ll be a different race from the America's Cup, with the boats expected to reach speeds of almost 100 kmh and come within metres of the shoreline. (Correction: Sorry for misspelling Lyttelton in the email edition.)