New Zealand to open Auckland border

·3-min read

New Zealand will dismantle the hard border around Auckland in time for Christmas, allowing separated Kiwis to reunite over the holidays.

However, police will fine any unvaccinated citizens who attempt to leave the country's biggest city, undertaking random spot checks similar to drink-driving patrols to keep COVID-19 at bay.

New Zealand is enduring its worst outbreak of the pandemic, with daily case numbers around 200, the majority of them in Auckland.

On Wednesday, health officials announced one fatality connected to the virus - of an Auckland man in his 60s - bringing the country's death toll to 35.

Officials also reported 194 new community cases, including a man in Christchurch.

Auckland's 1.7 million residents have been in lockdown since August 17, a measure which has largely kept COVID-19 out of the regions.

They will leave lockdown shortly after November 29, when the government will set a 'Freedom Day' to move into a vaccine certificate system.

And on December 15, by which time Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says 90 per cent of eligible Kiwis could be vaccinated, travel will be allowed in and out of Auckland.

"Aucklanders have faced restrictions for an extended period of time to keep the rest of New Zealand safe. But with increased rates of vaccination it's time to open up the ability to travel again," she said.

"Aucklanders can now book summer travel and accommodation with confidence, and businesses inside Auckland and around the rest of the country can plan for summer travellers."

The government has opted against police-controlled borders.

Instead, Kiwis will need to have proof of a negative test or vaccination when they check-in for flights and Cook Strait ferries, or when stopped at a roadside spot check.

The vaccine certificate system will exclude unvaccinated Kiwis from many services, including visiting public facilities, restaurants and hairdressers.

On Wednesday, the My Vaccine Pass website went live, allowing Kiwis to download proof of their vax status.

Ms Ardern said the shift would occur "soon after November 29".

"The steps we have taken to date have undeniably saved lives and slowed the spread of the virus that otherwise could have moved through the country very quickly," she said.

"But elimination and the alert levels were never intended as a forever strategy. High vaccination rates now offer us the ability to change our approach and move into the next chapter of our COVID response."

Judging from the political reaction in Wellington, the Labour government may have hit the sweet spot.

Right-leaning opposition parties National and ACT have called on Ms Ardern to accelerate re-opening plans, while left-wingers the Greens and the Maori Party want additional protection.

Unfortunately for overseas-based New Zealanders, Ms Ardern has not relented on harsh international border settings.

Kiwis based abroad must still win a quarantine raffle to secure a place and spend seven days isolating in a hotel on arrival - even as COVID-positive citizens are allowed isolate at home.

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