NZ govt not phased by border go-slow

·2-min read

Senior members of Jacinda Ardern's government believe they've hit the sweet spot with their border changes, which keep non-Kiwis out of New Zealand for another five months.

On Wednesday, the government released its border reopening plan, which will allow New Zealanders in Australia to sidestep quarantine from January 17.

Kiwis in other countries will follow suit in February, with foreigners allowed in from April 30.

However, there is no plan to allow anyone to walk from the airport into the community any time soon: all arrivals will still need to self-isolate for a week, making international tourism largely unfeasible.

The changes will mean New Zealand has some of the highest hurdles to entry of any developed country next year.

"I acknowledge that for some people yesterday's announcement didn't go fast enough and they'd like to see more and see it happen faster," COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said.

"For other people, they are really nervous about what's going on.

"For most, they will just be pleased to have some certainty. They can get on and plan now even if the plan wasn't exactly the way they wanted it."

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said protecting the health system had to be New Zealand's priority.

"The health system has done well coping with where the pandemic is at the moment. I'm sure it will continue to do so and that will open up opportunities in the future," he said.

A number of trans-Tasman sporting competitions - including Super Rugby Pacific, the NBL and A-Leagues - were banking on the removal of self-isolation provisions, and are facing headaches.

"The rules are the rules ... that won't be changed for a particular group of people," Mr Robertson said.

The border changes had also had a huge impact on the number of Kiwis seeking out quarantine places.

On Thursday, a quarantine ballot drew fewer than 6000 applications - well down on demand for previous ballots, which often saw in tens of thousands of applicants.

New Zealand also suffered its 41st death of the pandemic and 178 new community cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

Health officials reported the death of a Auckland City Hospital patient, aged in their late 50s, after three weeks in hospital.

The death is the 15th since the arrival of the Delta variant in August this year, which has provided around three-quarters of New Zealand's entire COVID-19 caseload.

The outbreak remains centred on Auckland - with 149 cases - which is into its 101st day of lockdown.

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