Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that New Zealand’s borders will remain closed until the country’s population is vaccinated and protected.
On January 26, 2021, New Zealand’s prime minister said she would not open the borders for international travel until the majority of the country’s population is vaccinated. The vaccination process for the general population is planned to begin mid-2021.
“Given the risks in the world around us and the uncertainty of the global rollout of the vaccine, we can expect our borders to be impacted for much of this year,” said Ardern at a press conference. “For travel to restart, we need one of two things: we either need the confidence that being vaccinated means you don’t pass Covid-19 on to others – and we don’t know that yet; or we need enough of our population to be vaccinated and protected that people can safely re-enter New Zealand. Both possibilities will take some time.”
Ardern announced that further travel bubbles with Australia and the Pacific region will be pursued, but the rest of the world “poses too great of a risk” to New Zealand’s economy and health system.
On January 24, 2021, New Zealand recorded the first COVID-19 case since November 2020. The next day, Australia suspended its quarantine-free arrangements for New Zealanders for three days. Ardern criticized such an abrupt decision and said it complicated a quarantine-free travel bubble agreement between the two countries.
On January 21, 2021, the country’s flag carrier, Air New Zealand started operating flights to the Cook Islands as a one-way travel bubble between the islands and New Zealand opened.
In March 2020, Air New Zealand received a $900 million loan from the government in order to stay afloat. In return, the government currently owns 52% of the carrier. The carrier’s passenger numbers dropped from 17.6 million to 8.4 million and the reported losses reached to $454 million. In June 2020, the airline furloughed 175 cabin crew and was counting to bring them back once the border restrictions loosened up.
“Under the law, we have to follow this particular process and clearly our intention is to get these people back as soon as we get borders open but, as you can understand, that’s not something that’s in my control,” said Air New Zealand Chief executive Greg Foran.