For a New Zealand town abandoned by tourists, the 'bubble' is a godsend

Hugs and tears of joy as New Zealand gradually reopens its borders

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Auckland (AFP) – New Zealanders stranded abroad by the pandemic returned home with tears and hugs on Monday as the country began lifting some border health restrictions that were among the world’s toughest.

‘Welcome home, my dear daughter’: At Auckland airport, parents were reunited with loved ones allowed into the country without mandatory hotel quarantine for the first time in nearly two years.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the change welcome, especially for the tens of thousands of New Zealanders abroad who are eager to return home.

“We look forward to seeing you,” Ardern told reporters in Wellington, adding that it was “an important milestone for our tourism sector and our regional economies.”

So far, New Zealand expats entering the country have had to undergo 10 days of isolation in expensive hotels.

This requirement was removed on Monday for New Zealanders arriving from Australia and will be extended to all arrivals on Friday.

Family reunion at Auckland airport after some border health restrictions are lifted, February 28, 2022 in New Zealand David Roland AFP

Ms Ardern said arrivals would not have to self-isolate, as was originally planned.

She also said the government plans to speed up the gradual reopening of borders for all travelers, although no timetable has yet been set.

Ms Ardern said the rapid spread of the Omicron variant meant the impact of open borders on case numbers was less significant, allowing restrictions to be lifted sooner.

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“When we witness a significant change in the pandemic, we act very quickly to safely adapt our actions,” she said.

Tight border controls have been a major part of New Zealand’s success in fighting the coronavirus, with just 56 deaths recorded for a population of five million.

Family reunion at Auckland airport after some border health restrictions are lifted, February 28, 2022 in New Zealand
Family reunion at Auckland airport after some border health restrictions are lifted, February 28, 2022 in New Zealand David Rowland AFP

The Omicron outbreak has intensified in recent weeks, with 14,657 new cases reported on Monday. Ms Ardern said the country’s high vaccination rate of around 95 per cent “provides strong preventive coverage”.

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