Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that domestic borders around New Zealand's largest city, Auckland, will reopen on December 15 for fully vaccinated people and those with negative COVID-19 test results.
Auckland has been cut off from the rest of the country for more than 90 days due to an outbreak of the contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19. But, with more than 80% of Auckland and the rest of the country fully vaccinated, Ardern announced that it was time to resume travel.
"Aucklanders can now book summer travel and accommodation with confidence, and companies in Auckland and around the country can plan for summer travellers," said Ardern.
Within 72 hours of departure, passengers must either be completely vaccinated or provide a negative COVID-19 test result. Infringers will be fined NZ$1,000 ($698.60) if they break the rules. Ardern stated that details on easing international border restrictions will be provided before the end of the year.
New Zealand only allows citizens and permanent residents to enter the country, but the number of returnees is limited each week due to a weekly cap on the number of spaces available in state quarantine facilities, making it difficult for many to return home.
New Zealand had generally succeeded in its elimination approach until the Delta outbreak persisted, forcing Ardern to shift her attention to living with the virus and increasing vaccinations.
She said the cabinet would approve its decision on November 29 to transition Auckland and the rest of the country to the new traffic-light system, which will end lockdowns and use social distancing and other measures to limit the spread of the virus.