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New Zealand will reopen to U.S. visitors after more than two years

Borders will reopen to some vaccinated foreign travelers on May 1

A giant sign painted near the Wellington International Airport greets travelers arriving in New Zealand. (Nick Perry/AP)

New Zealand will reopen to some international tourists sooner than planned over the next couple of months, after more than two years of strict travel restrictions.

Beginning April 12, vaccinated Australian visitors can enter the country without having to quarantine, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a news briefing Wednesday. Shortly after that, on May 1, New Zealand will open its borders to vaccinated travelers from visa-waiver countries, which include the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and Germany, and to those with valid visitor visas.

The country previously said it would open to U.S. tourists by July.

Australia reopens to vaccinated visitors

“We have now received guidance that it is safe to significantly bring forward the next stage of border-reopening work, to welcome back our tourists,” Ardern said. “In doing so, we are sending a very clear message that we are accelerating our economic recovery.

Before the pandemic, tourism contributed 5.5 percent to New Zealand’s gross domestic product and made up 8 percent of the country’s workforce, according to a news release.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moved New Zealand to its highest warning level for travel last week. Despite its strict border-control measures, new cases in the country have recently soared.

CDC says avoid travel to New Zealand, Hong Kong and Thailand as covid cases surge

Ardern acknowledged Wednesday that the decision to reopen to tourists “comes at a time when we are reaching a level of covid we haven’t seen before but had planned for.” She noted that travel numbers are expected to be lower than 2019, and tourists will be required to take a pre-departure coronavirus test and two more after they arrive. “And so we strike the balance,” she said.

According to tracking data compiled by The Washington Post through Wednesday, New Zealand had 2,687 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days and saw a 7 percent dip in daily cases over the past week.

New Zealand’s close neighbor, Australia, also began welcoming overseas visitors last month, nearly two years after the country closed its borders to travelers.

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