Christopher Luxon says Jacinda Ardern should resign if she backs down on COVID-19 border reopening dates

Haere mai Kiwis, it's time to come home.

The news on Thursday that the border will start opening from the end of February was overwhelming for James Pickford in Hong Kong. 

"Wow," he said, in disbelief.

He hasn't seen his family in two years.

"It's all a bit of a relief to know that I can actually get back there."

In just a few weeks' time, the border breaks. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in her reopening speech, declared it's "time to move again". 

"Families and friends need to reunite. Our businesses need skills to grow. Exporters need to travel to make new connections," Ardern said. 

Beginning February 27, the drawbridge is lowered for Kiwis across the Tasman and two weeks later Kiwis around the rest of the world can come home.

"We've deliberately timed the opening to a point where 92 percent of New Zealanders will have been eligible to be boosted and therefore we'll be as ready as we can be," Ardern said. 

They'll be required to self-isolate on arrival, with the same isolation period as contacts of COVID-19 cases - 10 days for a start. 

"We do see self-isolation requirements changing over time. We've already said that, for instance, we expect as we move through the pandemic for there to be a reduction to seven days over time. We will constantly keep that under review," Ardern said. 

And it's not just Kiwis. From March 13, critical workers like nurses will be allowed in, as well as skilled workers like farm managers and tech professionals, as long as they are earning one-and-a-half times the median wage - a minimum of $40.50 an hour. 

"We've really frontloaded critical and essential workers, frontloaded Working Holiday because they have the dual benefit of being both tourists in the country and working in jobs where we need people to be as we prepare for tourists to return," Ardern said.

It's a relief for dairy farmer Jason Herrick who's been two workers short, the entire pandemic.

"It all depends on Immigration being able to deliver and to get the job done in a timely fashion because we are in need of a lot of workers," he told Newshub. 

The next step is welcoming tourists back to Middle Earth. From July at the latest, tourists from visa waiver countries - like Australia, the United States and much of Europe - will be allowed in. 

Taupō chopper pilot Carl Thurston is desperate to show off his back yard. 

"I'm looking forward to getting that first booking from an Australian and then from some of those overseas people as well," he told Newshub. 

But he's skeptical about whether tourism will take off straight away.

"I think things will take a little while for people to decide that it is time to come to New Zealand, they'll be cautious about booking tickets."

That's possibly because we've heard a few reopening strategies before. The Prime Minister promised this time she is for real - she won't back down. 

"No, as we've said today, these are very firm dates we've set."

If she backs down, National leader Christopher Luxon says it's a resignation offence. 

"I would have thought so. I think she's made it crystal clear today and she's set expectations people expect her to deliver on," he told Newshub. 

Managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) is still going to play a role for high-risk travellers. The unvaccinated will still need to quarantine. But the Defence Force will now begin withdrawing from their largest deployment ever. 

A core quarantine capacity will be maintained that can be scaled up as required, which will form what will be a more permanent National Quarantine Service - preparing for future pandemics. 

The Prime Minister acknowledged that MIQ has been one of the hardest parts of the pandemic. The cruelty and rigidity has caused so much pain and anguish to so many separated families. 

But MIQ did its job because we haven't seen the devastation of COVID-19 like other countries have. MIQ largely kept COVID-19 out, and now we're gearing up to let it in. 

No longer will we be the isolated little nation at the bottom of the world.