Wellington, Aug 12 (IANS) The New Zealand government unveiled on Thursday a framework for re-opening borders next year and moving to an individualized risk-based model for quarantine-free travel, while using the second half of 2021 to vaccinate as many New Zealanders as possible.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a forum on Reconnecting New Zealanders to the World that the country will "safely conduct a self-isolation trial for vaccinated New Zealanders in order to prepare for a phased resumption of quarantine-free travel."
The release of the plan followed the publication of the Strategic Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group's advice to the government on Wednesday, the Xinhua news agency reported.
"Getting vaccinated is the number one thing everyone can do to be protected against Covid-19, help accelerate our economic recovery, reduce the risk of lockdowns, and safely allow New Zealand's borders to begin re-opening next year," Ardern said.
The prime minister said the plan was informed by "the best available scientific evidence and public health advice," adding it will allow the country to capture the opportunities vaccination brings, while protecting the gains New Zealanders have worked so hard for.
"Key to this is maintaining our Elimination Strategy. The advice is clear: If we open our borders now, we will lose the freedoms and advantages we have achieved so far," she said.
Ardern stressed the first step in the plan is speeding up the vaccination process to "ensure everyone is at least partially vaccinated as soon as possible" to reduce the risk and impact of Delta entering the country.
Period between doses was extended to six weeks from Thursday. Those who work at the border, have underlying health conditions or wish to be fully vaccinated sooner can still get their second dose after three weeks, according to the Ministry of Health.
People aged 50 plus can book Covid-19 vaccines from Friday; 40 plus will be open on next Wednesday; 30 plus will be open on August 25, and from September 1 the booking will be open for all eligible ages, the ministry said.
Once enough people are vaccinated, the government will be able to start a phased introduction of an individual risk-based approach to border settings in 2022.
The risk-based approach creates Low-Risk, Medium-Risk and High-Risk travel pathways, and which pathway a traveller takes will be based on the risk associated with where they are coming from and their vaccination status, Ardern said, adding each pathway will have testing and isolation requirements proportionate to that risk.
The Low-Risk pathway will permit quarantine free entry for vaccinated travellers who have been in low-risk countries, she said.
The Medium-Risk pathway would include a combination of self-isolation and/or reduced managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) for vaccinated travellers who have been in medium risk countries, she said, adding the High-Risk pathway will see the continuation of a full 14 days in MIQ and testing for any travellers.
A self-isolation pilot will be run in the second half of this year to test processes and systems for the safe use of this tool for the Medium-Risk pathway.