Concerns about the rapid global spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus prompted New Zealand to postpone its phased border re-opening plans until the end of February.

The South Pacific nation has just recently begun to relax some of the world's strictest pandemic measures, and its international border restrictions were to be gradually eased from January, with all foreign tourists being permitted into the country from April.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said that non-quarantine travel, which was supposed to start for New Zealanders in Australia on January 16, would be delayed until the end of February.

"All evidence suggests that Omicron is the most transmissible COVID-19 variant to date. While this is undoubtedly disappointing and may disrupt many holiday plans, it is critical to lay out these changes clearly today so that people have time to consider their options."

Big questions': New Zealand Covid minister raises doubts about elimination  strategy | New Zealand | The Guardian

The precautionary measures were taken because it was still unclear how sick Omicron makes people and the impact it has on health systems, he explained.

The length of stay in state quarantine facilities in New Zealand will also be increased from a week to ten days. The 72-hour pre-departure test requirement for entering New Zealand has been decreased to 48 hours.

The decisions were made, according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, to give the government more time to prepare for Omicron. "It's not a matter of if it spreads in New Zealand, but when, since it's so easily spread. As a result, we're doing everything we can to ensure that we're prepared," Ardern said.

New Zealand has recorded 22 cases of the Omicron variant, but they're all at border quarantine facilities, and no community cases have been reported yet.