Covid 19 Omicron: Traffic light setting decision day as thousands of Aussie travellers fly in

New Zealand’s border has reopened to Australian citizens and permanent residents with thousands flying into the country today as New Zealanders await the Government’s traffic light setting announcement later today.

Australian citizens and permanent residents travelling from anywhere in the world can enter New Zealand from today without having to self-isolate.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said New Zealand can expect to see “a lot” of tourists coming back.

In particular, Australians would be travelling here to catch the ski season.

Nash told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking that Australians made up 40 per cent of tourists travelling to New Zealand pre-Covid.

Today, about 3000 were expected to come into town, he said.

“Australians travel to ski more than any other nation believe it or not. They head into Queenstown, they have a fantastic time there and gods willing, in terms of snow we think it’s going to be a fantastic season down there,” said Nash.

7.05am: Stuart Nash; 7.10am: Sir Ian Taylor

Nash said they’ve been working closely with the ski industry to ensure they are ready and staffed for the season.

“The visas we’ve granted are the one’s they’ve said they need and Immigration New Zealand said they can process them with plenty of time for the ski season,” said Nash.

Meanwhile, New Zealanders will find out today whether the country is staying in the red traffic light setting or moving to orange, with the Government set to make an announcement at 1pm this afternoon.

There were 11,063 new Covid-19 community cases reported yesterday and 622 people in hospital, including 23 in intensive care.

The country has been in the red traffic light setting since January 23 when nine cases in the Nelson/Marlborough region were confirmed as the Omicron variant.

The Government’s review of the traffic light setting today will be the second time in less than a fortnight with ministers assessing hospitalisation rates and the pressure on the health care system.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said the seven-day rolling average of overall community cases – the key figure health authorities focused on – had dipped below 10,000 cases for the first time in a while. Yesterday the average was 9731, while last Tuesday it was 12,785.

However, Bloomfield said, “the seriousness of Covid-19, even the Omicron outbreak, remains clear”.

A further 16 Covid-related deaths were announced yesterday. All had been reported to the Ministry of Health in the last 24 hours.

One person was in their 30s, two were in their 50s, three were in their 70s, six were in their 80s and four were aged over 90.

And more than 3000 travellers from Australia are expected to arrive in Aotearoa today under the next stage of New Zealand’s border reopening plan.

Step three of the Government’s border reopening plan also includes temporary work and student visa holders who still meet their visa requirements and up to 5000 international students.

Auckland Airport’s aeronautical commercial general manager Scott Tasker said while more than 3000 travellers would arrive today – more than 10,000 were expected to arrive and depart on the first and last days of the Australian school holidays (April 15 and May 1, respectively).

While this would be only 30 per cent of pre-Covid demand, it would be the busiest the terminal had been since March 2020, Tasker said.

The Government closed the borders to all but New Zealand citizens and permanent residents on March 19, 2020, almost three weeks after the country recorded its first Covid-19 case.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last month closing the borders two years ago did the job that was needed but now that the population was highly vaccinated and predicted to be off the Omicron peak, it was safe to reopen.

“Reopening in time for the upcoming Australian school holidays will help spur our economic recovery in the short term and is good news for the winter ski season.”

Tourism minister Stuart Nash said 275 experienced ski workers had been allowed to enter New Zealand to fill winter tourism workforce gaps ahead of the border reopening to Australian tourists.

Nash said exceptions had been made to the usual border rules so the ski industry could recruit much-needed snow sports instructors, ski patrol and safety specialists, snow grooming and snowmaking machinery operators, and ski lift and snow sport technicians.

“These are highly skilled roles that require professional qualifications, and where experience has been gained over several seasons on the global ski circuit in places like Europe and North America.

“Kiwis fill the majority of ski field and snow sports roles. However, there are not enough locals with the required skills, certification or experience to meet seasonal short-term needs.”

On Monday, the 11 millionth Covid-19 vaccine was administered.

The Ministry of Health said it was a significant milestone and a testament to the hard work of health providers throughout Aotearoa.

As of yesterday, 96.4 per cent of New Zealanders have had their first dose of vaccine, 95.2 per cent have had two and 72.7 per cent have had a booster.

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