New Zealand will finally begin reopening its borders over the coming months.
Displaced residents who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to return home from January 16.
Fully vaccinated travellers will be able to enter the country from April 30 next year.
The gradual reopening will bring an end to what have been some of the harshest restrictions imposed anywhere in the world during the pandemic.
The harsh border measures were considered vital in keeping New Zealand almost entirely free of the virus for the first 18 months of the crisis.
But an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant back in August proved impossible to stamp out, prompting authorities to abandon the elimination strategy in October.
Vaccine take-up has also been steadily increasing, making the border restrictions increasingly hard to justify.
New Zealand’s Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the government had made difficult trade-offs to keep people as safe as possible throughout the pandemic.
He said: ‘We acknowledge that it has been very tough.
‘Families have been separated. People have found themselves having to shelter in places they did not expect to stay for prolonged periods of time.
‘We are acutely aware of the impact that these restrictions have had on individuals’ lives and their livelihoods.’
Under the government’s plan, all incoming travellers will still be required to isolate for seven days, at least for the time being.
Mr Hipkins said the border will be open is stages to try and mitigate the risk of the virus being brought in again.
Fully vaccinated New Zealanders will be able to return from Australia without staying in quarantine from January 16 and from other countries after February 13.
The door will then open in stages to tourists and other travellers from April 30.
About 69% of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, including 84% of those aged 12 and over.
New Zealand has reported just 40 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began.
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