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New Zealand delays border reopening over Omicron concerns, holding back Australian travellers

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 21/12/2021

New Zealand has postponed its phased border reopening plans by more than a month over concerns of the rapid global spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

It means that non-quarantine travel for Australians will be pushed back from January 16 until the end of February, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told a media conference in Wellington on Tuesday. 

"There's no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it's important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans," Mr Hipkins said.

"[But] all of the evidence so far points to Omicron being the most transmissible COVID-19 variant yet."

Mr Hipkins also announced that New Zealand would shorten the gap between second vaccine doses and boosters from six to four months, meaning 82 per cent of vaccinated citizens would be due for a booster by February.

After easing some of the world's toughest pandemic measures, New Zealand had planned to begin loosening international border restrictions next month.

But now foreign tourists — apart from Australians — won't be allowed back into the country until April.

The measures were a precaution as it was still unclear how sick Omicron makes people and the impact it had on health systems was not yet fully understood, Mr Hipkins said.

New Zealand also said the length of stay in state quarantine facilities would be increased from one week to 10 days.

The pre-departure test requirement to enter New Zealand was reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours before travel.

Air New Zealand said it would cancel around 120 services through to the end of February due to the reopening plans being pushed back, affecting about 27,000 customers.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the decisions were taken to give the government more time to prepare for Omicron.

"It's unfortunately not a case of if [it spreads in New Zealand] but when … it's so easily spread," Ms Ardern said on Facebook Live.

"So we are doing everything we can to make sure we are prepared."

The Omicron variant was first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong and has spread with lightning speed to at least 89 countries so far.

New Zealand has reported 22 cases with the Omicron variant but all were at border quarantine facilities.

There have been no community cases recorded, despite a major outbreak in Australia.

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Reuters/ABC


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