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New Zealand Finally Has a Plan to Reopen Borders to International Travelers | Frommer's Daniel Huebner / Shutterstock

New Zealand Finally Has a Plan to Reopen Borders to International Travelers

While the rest of the world grapples with yet another coronavirus wave, this time brought on by the highly contagious Delta variant, life has pretty much returned to normal in New Zealand.

Out of a population of 5 million, only 26 people in the South Pacific nation have died from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the Associated Press

One reason for the country's success against the virus has to do with the only remaining pandemic-related change in place there: Virtually no international visitors are allowed in.

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Even the quarantine-free travel bubble with close ally Australia has been suspended—only about three months after being introduced—amid the current global surge in infections. 

But as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this week, "We cannot keep border restrictions on forever, and to be absolutely clear we do not want to either."

To prove it, Ardern's government unveiled a cautious plan to reopen borders to international travelers early next year. 

Officials hope that will give the country enough time to kick its lagging vaccine rollout into high gear. The AP reports that only about 29% of New Zealanders have received one dose of the vaccine, with 17% of the population fully vaccinated.

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The goal, Ardern said in a speech announcing the reopening plan, is to boost those vaccine figures so that there's "reasonable coverage" by the start of 2022.

Then, at some point during the first quarter of the year, fully vaccinated travelers from "low-risk" countries would be allowed to enter New Zealand without quarantine—though Covid-19 testing will likely be required.

Vaccinated visitors from medium-risk countries will have to undergo an isolation period of some length, but it probably won't last as long as the 14 days currently required of visiting Australians. 

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Travelers from high-risk countries and all unvaccinated visitors will have to complete the full, two-week quarantine—and do so in a military-run hospital. 

The government declined to reveal which countries qualify as low-, medium-, and high-risk right now because that assessment could change considerably by the end of the year. 

Though the reopening plan is still only in the early stages, New Zealand's once-thriving tourism industry has to welcome any effort to raise figures that went from upwards of 3 million annual visitors in 2019 to bupkis in 2020 and 2021. 

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Pictured at top: Aoraki / Mount Cook on New Zealand's South Island

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