By Lucy Craymer
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Australians started arriving in New Zealand Wednesday after the country opened its borders to Australian travellers for the first time since mid-2021.
New Zealand had some of the toughest border controls in the world during the COVID pandemic as part of government efforts to keep the coronavirus out. A short-lived travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia was suspended in mid-2021 after COVID-19 outbreaks.
But the government has started to ease these increasingly unpopular measures, hoping to boost tourism and ease labour shortages now that Omicron is widespread domestically.
“This is the first step in welcoming international visitors back to our shores and we couldn’t be more excited for both New Zealand and Air New Zealand,” said Air New Zealand Chief Customer and Sales Officer Leanne Geraghty in a statement.
The airline said that it was running 11 near-full flights from Australia with the first landing at Auckland International Airport earlier this morning.
Television footage showed emotional footage of families and friends reuniting as two flights from Australia touched down in Auckland. Signs were distributed to those waiting in the Arrivals Lounge declaring “Hello & Kia Ora & G’day & Welcome.”
Foreigners were previously banned outright from entering, and until February citizens looking to return had to either make emergency requests to the government or secure a spot in state quarantine facilities.
Tourists from visa-waiver countries including the United States, Britain and Singapore will now be able to visit from May 1. The border will remain closed for all other visitors until October.
(Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Editing by David Gregorio)