COVID-19: New Zealand drops self-isolation requirements for fully vaccinated travellers

Fully vaccinated travellers to New Zealand will soon no longer need to self-isolate upon arrival, the Prime Minister has announced.

Jacinda Ardern says the new rules will be in place from 11:59pm this Wednesday, March 2.

The Government will also be bringing forward Step 2 of its reopening plan, enabling New Zealanders from the rest of the world to return from midnight on Friday, March 4.

The announcement comes after Cabinet considered advice from Professor Sir David Skegg's Strategic COVID-19 Public Health Advisory Group and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield on Monday afternoon.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the change means that tourists and returning Kiwis will be able to "step off the plane and immediately connect with family and friends and enjoy all New Zealand has to offer".

"Travellers will still be required to have a negative pre-departure test, and undertake two rapid antigen tests on arrival and at day 5/6. If anyone returns a positive result they will be required to report it and isolate for the same period as a community case," he said.

"Returnees are also asked to follow up their positive rapid antigen test with a PCR test, so that we can run whole genome sequencing and determine the variant. This will ensure that we can still keep tabs on any emerging variants and isolate cases as needed."

Cabinet will review the timings of the remaining steps for opening back up to the world in the coming weeks.

Hipkins says the growth of Omicron has seen the risk in New Zealand shift from the border to the community. He says "caution has served us well during the past two years", but as cases peak, the Government would look to remove restrictions as it's safe to do so.

"As the pandemic evolves, we are too."

Prof Sir David Skegg's advisory group acknowledges that without self-isolation there will probably be more cases entering the community, but these will remain a very small proportion of overall cases for the foreseeable future.

The shift in approach comes with border cases decreasing steadily over the past month. The Government points out the seven-day average for border cases over the weekend was 9.4, compared with a seven-day average of around 6700 for cases in the community.

"The border and MIQ workforce have done a phenomenal job at first keeping COVID-19 out of New Zealand and then slowing the spread once it arrived. Because of this mahi, New Zealand has one of the lowest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world," Hipkins said.

Managed isolation and quarantine facilities will remain in place for use by unvaccinated New Zealanders, refugees and some community cases when required. However this will be scaled back, and more developments are expected on this in the coming weeks.