New Zealand confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on February 28, and the country moved quickly to curb the outbreak, implementing self-quarantine for incoming travelers on March 14 and entering lockdown just 10 days later. At the end of April, government restrictions began to began to lift, and by early May, the country had its first day without a new case. In the weeks since, there’s been the odd positive result, but the coronavirus has been largely contained. On August 10, a small cluster of cases in Auckland led to new lockdown restrictions. Here’s the latest: 

Editor's note: This article was last updated on August 11, 2020. We will update this piece regularly to stay on top of the latest travel advice.

Travel restrictions in New Zealand

New Zealand’s border is currently closed to almost all arrivals by air or sea – only returning citizens and residents with valid travel conditions can enter without prior approval, barring a few exceptions. Transit passengers are also forbidden from entering New Zealand at this time. 

Government officials had been exploring the possibility a trans-Tasman travel bubble with Australia, but as cases there continue to rise, those plans are now on hold, and a partnership with the Cook Islands is being considered instead. 

Will I have to quarantine when I arrive in New Zealand?

All travelers entering New Zealand are required to quarantine for at least 14 days in a hotel provided by the government. Passengers must wear face masks until they arrive at their facility, including when deplaning and during the initial screening for COVID-19 symptoms. Those with symptoms and those awaiting test results will be transferred to a quarantine facility, and everyone else will be assigned to managed isolation. No domestic flights are permitted before quarantine is complete, and health assessments and negative COVID-19 tests are required before travelers are allowed to enter the community. 

For passengers arriving by sea, the clock starts on those two weeks of quarantine when the boat enters New Zealand’s territorial waters, and isolation will likely be completed onboard. The Ministry of Health has details on maritime-sector exceptions. 

A campervan on the road in scenic New Zealand
© David Wong/Getty Images

Current lockdown status in New Zealand

As of August 12, the Auckland region (Auckland Council area) moves to Alert Level 3 for 3 days until midnight on Friday, August 14. The rest of New Zealand moves to Alert Level 2. In the country's classification of alert levels, level 2 means "reduce" while level 3 is "restrict". "Reduce" means the disease is contained but there is risk of transmission and residents are encouraged to reduce contact with others, while "restrict" means that community transition is happening and a range of measures can be applied to encourage people to stay home. Currently, residents of Auckland are asked to stay at home unless they are an essential worker. Bar and restaurants are closed, but takeaway is permitted. See the full details of the restrictions here.  

New Zealanders across the country are also being asked to keep track of where they’ve been and who they’ve seen for rapid contact tracing purposes, and to that end, posters with COVID-tracer QR codes are being displayed in many businesses. 

Though restrictions have been lifted, shops, restaurants, and accommodations around the country remain closed, particularly in hospitality-focused destinations like Queenstown. As of June, reportedly half of the city’s hotels were closed, and one local businessman told the BBC that of his two hostels there, one was closed and the other was at 40% occupancy – and that’s with discounted rates on offer. But the South Island ski destination’s season is now in full swing, and resorts are reporting record visitors. 

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Auckland: A small cluster of cases led to an increase in restrictions in Auckland, beginning August 12 and remaining in place for three days. Workers are encouraged to stay home, bar and restaurants are encouraged to close, but takeaway is permitted. While schools are open, there is limited capacity. Public venues like libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds and markets and encouraged to close. See the full restrictions here.  

Queenstown: In mid-July, local ski resorts Coronet Peak and the Remarkables reportedly recorded their highest single-day turnout in seven years – some 10,000 visitors across both locations. The Shotover Jet boat ride has also reopened. 

Wellington: The Zealandia nature sanctuary has reopened with no restrictions, as has the Wellington Botanic Gardens and the Wellington Museum

What they’re saying in New Zealand about COVID-19 and travel

New Zealand moved early to close its borders, quarantine new arrivals, and implement an aggressive contact-tracing program, all of which contributed to the successful containment of the virus. But in doing so, its economy took a big hit, especially in the tourism sector. “It was recognized that implementing this strategy would have significant economic costs, but so would a major outbreak,” New Zealand’s Director-General of Health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, told the World Health Organization. 

As international travel still banned, the country is encouraging domestic travel instead. “Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is asking people to ‘experience your own backyard,’” Reuters reports. “She is urging employers to consider four-day work weeks and has said the government is actively considering more public holidays this year so people can travel.” So far, New Zealanders seem to be responding, but given that, “foreigners account for around half the NZ$16.1 billion (US$10.34 billion) that tourism contributes to GDP in New Zealand,” according to the news agency, homegrown travel likely won’t make up the difference. 

In areas dependent on tourism, like Queenstown, businesses are suffering, and migrant workers are bearing the brunt of the financial burden. "At the end of the day, virtually every job in the district is dependent on some version of tourism,” Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult told CNN. Still, when faced with the prospect of reopening the borders, some Kiwis have been vocal in their opposition. “We don’t need the risk,” one commenter said on Facebook, per the Guardian. “Lock that gate,” added another. 

Nonetheless, the region’s first quarantine-free travel bubble appears to be on the way. On July 14, the Cook Islands' deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown told the AM Show that talks are ongoing between the two countries. "We've got a few little things to iron out with the protocols in terms of crossing the T's and dotting the I's,” he said. “We're looking forward to progress.” 

Once again, though, New Zealand continues to stress the importance of caution. “The number one priority will continue to be the safety of both New Zealand and Realm countries,” a spokesperson told Newshub. “No one wishes to be responsible for COVID entering into the Pacific.” 

COVID-19 snapshot

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This article was first published Jul 28, 2020 and updated Aug 11, 2020.

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