New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern sets out plans to re-connect with post-pandemic world

Wellington: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday her government will explore more travel “bubbles” and lead trade delegations later this year to re-connect with a post-pandemic world after more than a year of border closures.

Tough lockdowns and its geographical location has helped New Zealand eliminate the novel coronavirus within its borders, but left the country of 5 million isolated from the rest of the world.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.Credit:Getty

With majority of its essential workers now being vaccinated and inoculation for the wider population starting in July, the government is preparing a plan for how it would reopen.

Ardern said New Zealand started rebuilding contact by opening quarantine-free travel with neighbouring Australia and the South Pacific’s Cook Islands, and is considering more such travel bubble options.

The South Pacific island nation of “Niue is the natural next addition,” said Ardern.

Beyond that we are relatively open-minded, and I do anticipate there will be other countries we can explore opportunities with,” the PM said in her pre-budget speech in Auckland.

More than 70,000 people landed in New Zealand from Australia since the travel bubble opened last month, and over 57,000 have travelled the other way, Ardern said.

Re-opening for business: skiers and snowboarders ride chairlifts in Cardrona, New Zealand. Credit:Getty Images

She, however, noted that vaccine roll out in New Zealand is incomplete and the number of countries it could safely open up to is also limited.

Ardern said she will lead a trade and promotional delegation to Australia in early July, and will also look to lead delegations into Europe, the United States, China and the wider Asia-Pacific.

“These trips may not have been overly notable pre-COVID, but they are hugely significant in light of the domestic realities we’ve been experiencing, and the global ones that still persist,” Ardern said.

The timeline for Australia to re-open borders is uncertain. Australia’s recent budget predicted the border would reopen in the middle of next-year, based on the assumption that the vaccine rollout will be completed by the end of 2021.

Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned there would be at least 1000 coronavirus cases in Australia every week if the international borders were to open – even if vulnerable people are vaccinated.

New Zealand will announce its annual budget next week, which Ardern said would continue supporting recovery from the pandemic but will also see a shift towards a more targeted response.

Reuters with reporters

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