(CNN) — New Zealand has announced it will begin reopening to the world, signaling an end to nearly two years of tough border rules that have separated families and shut out almost all foreigners.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined a five-step plan Thursday that will allow fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens to start traveling from Australia later this month. They will need to self-isolate on arrival — but they won’t need to go into state-run quarantine facilities.
The government website states that “self-isolation can be in your home or suitable alternative accommodation,” so it’s not yet known whether non-residents will be able to use hotels, rented apartments or other similar accommodations for their own self-isolation purposes.
The announcement is a major shift for New Zealand, which imposed some of the world’s strictest border rules in a bid to shut out Covid-19.
To deal with the limited quarantine places, New Zealand brought in a quarantine lottery system which allowed citizens to enter an online queue at designated times in the hopes of scoring spots.
That has meant many New Zealanders have struggled to get home — and some haven’t seen their loved ones for years.
Ardern said the anguish of quarantine had been “heartbreaking.”
“We are in a new phase in our Covid response,” Ardern said. “Covid as an illness hasn’t touched many of us to date. But with the transmissibility of Omicron we know we will experience the virus more directly. But the difference here is that we have all the tools possible now to prepare.”
New Zealand’s shift away from a zero-Covid approach has been signaled for months.
Jacinda Ardern photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images