New Zealand’s borders are fully open for the first time since they abruptly snapped shut to keep Covid-19 out in March 2020.
The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said the nation was “open for business” after the final stage of the phased reopening, which began in April, was completed on Sunday night.
Visitors from all over the world will once again be allowed into New Zealand, including maritime arrivals, those on student visas and those from non-visa waiver countries, such as China and India.
Ardern said the reopening was “an enormous moment” in a speech to the China Business Summit on Monday morning.
“It’s been a staged and cautious process on our part since February, as we, alongside the rest of the world, continue to manage a very live global pandemic, while keeping our people safe,” she said.
“New Zealanders are hosts. Manaakitanga [hospitality] streams through our veins and we open our arms to tourists and students, including from China, which prior to 2020 was New Zealand’s largest source of international students, and second-largest source of tourists.
“For those looking to make their journey here, haere mai, we welcome you.”
Cruise ships and foreign recreational yachts will also be allowed to dock at the country’s ports. The tourism minister, Stuart Nash, said the return of cruise ships – whose guests spent NZ$365m onshore a year prior to the pandemic – would be a big boost for local economies.
“Most cruise visits are during the warmer months of October to April … It will be full steam ahead for the industry, who can plan with certainty for the rest of the year and beyond,” Nash said in a statement.
Tourism operators, businesses and educational providers have welcomed the news, despite predictions from Immigration New Zealand that visitors are more likely to trickle – than flood – in over the next few months.
“I think it’s safe to say we’re not expecting the same level of demand we saw pre-Covid. That’s probably for a number of reasons,” Immigration New Zealand’s Simon Sanders told national broadcaster RNZ.
“We know that China, who’s a larger visitor visa-required country, is still subject to a range of travel restrictions so we’re not expecting large demand from there, at least initially.”
He encouraged students who have offers of study to apply immediately for their visas, and urged those looking to study in 2023 to hold off for a couple of months “so we can assure that those that need to arrive this year will be able to do so”.
The full reopening comes at the same time New Zealand is sitting within the top seven countries in the world for average daily confirmed Covid cases per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
A University of Auckland study released last week warned that the border reopening could see foreign-seeded Covid-19 cases jump four-fold – and that could put further strain on the already creaking health system.