New Zealand could spend all of 2022 closed: 'So many unknowns'

New Zealand’s plan to reopen borders in April are up in the air following a “full and frank” warning from the country’s Tourism Minister.

Stuart Nash has told a cross-industry roundtable the country could face another 12 months locked away from the world following the emergence of the new highly-mutated Omicron variant of concern.

In this April 6, 2020 file photo Air New Zealand planes sit idle on the tarmac at Christchurch Airport, New Zealand. An expert group advising the government believes it is realistic for the country to maintain its zero-tolerance approach, which has included strict lockdowns for even small outbreaks, once it begins to reopen its borders. Source: AAP
NZ's tourism minister has warned the country should prepare for 12 more months of closed borders. Source: AAP

Mr Nash told AAP the government has to consider the resilience of NZ's health system, the success of the country’s booster campaign and the impact of returning Kiwis from Australia and Europe before a final decision is made.

"It is very difficult to speculate (when the border will fully open) because there's just so many unknowns," he said.

Tourism Industry Association chief executive Chris Roberts described Mr Nash’s comments as “full and frank”.

Self-isolation requirement slammed

Just two weeks ago, the country announced it would reopen to tourists from April 30, 2022.

Under the plan, visitors would have to self-isolate for seven days on arrival.

From next month, Kiwis based in Australia can return and those based further abroad can come home from February 14, with the same self-isolation requirement.

It’s a condition that’s making the struggling tourism sector nervous amid fears it will deter international tourists.

"When we do open up to non-Kiwis, that essentially means we'll have no leisure visitors and very few business arrivals. It limits arrivals largely to friends and family," Mr Roberts told AAP.

"Instead of going to New Zealand, you could go to Canada or Australia or the USA and not do self-isolation.

"It's going to be an intensely competitive market – it already is – and New Zealand is going to start at the back of the field."

Passengers from New Zealand arrive at Sydney International Airport in Sydney, Friday, October 16, 2020. Australia’s border rules have been relaxed as the country establishes a trans-Tasman travel bubble with New Zealand. Source: AAP
Kiwis based in Australia can return in January. Source: AAP

The industry has called on the government to abandon the self-isolation requirement for the trans-Tasman bubble arrangement with Australia.

Australians accounted for 40 per cent of NZ's international visitors prior to the pandemic, or 1.5 million people, and 20 per cent of the international tourism spend.

"Australian tourism is grateful they don't have New Zealand as a competitor," he said.

"If the seven-day isolation requirement extends later into 2022, the economic loss (for NZ) over the next three years from a slower tourism recovery could be $NZ16 billion ($A15.2 billion)."

With AAP

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