While countries across much of Europe and elsewhere on the globe have now reopened to Americans, few countries have clamped down harder than New Zealand. But as vaccinations start to gain steam on the island, New Zealand is making plans to welcome back travelers next year.
Leaders in New Zealand this week announced their plan to welcome back vaccinated tourists starting in 2022, NPR News reports. It's a moving target based upon vaccination rates in the country and COVID-19 risks in travelers' home countries, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country could begin allowing a limited number of fully vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries in the first few months of 2022.
“While the pandemic continues to rage overseas, and the virus continues to change and mutate, the best thing we can do is lock in the gains achieved to date while keeping our options open,” Ardern said.
It's no slam-dunk, but it's the first concrete announcement New Zealand has made about restarting international travel since it became among the first countries to impose a strict travel ban in March 2020, closing the borders completely to non-citizens and non-residents. A travel bubble with Australia quickly popped earlier this year as COVID-19 cases rose.
Few countries have been more cautious than New Zealand throughout the pandemic. Multiple strict lockdowns have kept COVID-19 cases low from the start. While the pandemic's death toll has surpassed 4 million worldwide, New Zealand has only reported 26 deaths due to COVID-19 among its population of 5 million.
But vaccination will be the linchpin for resuming international travel, and that's been a struggle in New Zealand. Just 30% of the country has received one shot, with only 18% of the New Zealanders fully vaccinated. In the U.S., more than 50% of Americans are fully vaccinated.
What This Means for Travelers from the U.S.
There's so much still up in the air.
Many things need to fall into place for travelers from the U.S. to be allowed entry back into New Zealand. The vaccination rate in New Zealand needs to increase significantly. The COVID-19 cases in the U.S. will need to meet the currently unknown standards of a “low-risk country.”
Even with all of these variables, the mere fact that New Zealand is starting to consider opening back up to international travelers after almost 18 months of closed borders is a positive step.
Don't plan your trip to New Zealand for 2022 just yet. But keep your eye on it – and get ready to check it off your bucket list when everything comes together.