As New Zealand looks on track to curb its latest COVID-19 outbreak, many Kiwis are already starting to look forward to their next international trip. In the past few weeks, the Department of Internal Affairs has reported applications for passport renewals has hit “historic high levels” and Air New Zealand is hiring new staff following huge layoffs over the past few months.
In fact, Brent Thomas, House of Travel chief operating officer and Travel Agents Association of New Zealand president estimates that up to 2 million people could be jetting off overseas next year. But how realistic is it that we will be travelling overseas in 2022? And if so, what might the process involve?
Where might we be able to go in 2022?
It’s likely that travel will initially concentrate on countries deemed ‘low risk’ (which will most likely be based on acceptable vaccination rates and evidence of low community transmission).
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran says that the airline has been preparing for passenger flights to Hobart (Australia), Guangzhou (China) and Los Angeles (USA), as these are routes already being used in the government-assisted cargo scheme.
Other low-risk travel is expected to include many of our Pacific neighbours, such as the Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu. Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore may also be considered safe to travel to in the near future.
What could pre-departure look like?
In general, many countries will require proof of vaccination and/or evidence of a negative COVID-19 test. To keep track of all the different requirements for each country, travellers will likely require some type of digital ‘safe-travel’ passport.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently released details about its IATA Travel Pass. This mobile app securely stores travellers Covid-19 test results and vaccination information and is linked to biometric passport data.
Other digital solutions being developed include CommonPass, a platform currently being trialled by the World Economic Forum which will allow people to document and share their COVID-19 status electronically; and the ICC AOKpass mobile app, designed by Singapore-based health and security firm International SOS to store medical information.
The World Health Organisation is also pushing for a digital certification that shows a person’s vaccination record (via an electronic document). It does not, however, support the requirement of proof of COVID-19 vaccination to travel, although it does acknowledge that information about vaccination against COVID-19 may be used to reduce requirements for quarantine or testing upon arrival in certain countries.
How easy will it be to get back into the country?
Before the most recent lockdown in August 2021, the government had begun outlining details of how New Zealand would safely reopen its borders to overseas travel while still maintaining a COVID-19 elimination strategy.
The plan proposed that in the first quarter of 2022, new risk-based border settings would establish low, medium, and high-risk pathways back into the country. In general, this could mean:
- vaccinated people travelling or returning from destinations deemed low risk could be able to skip isolation entirely.
- those returning from medium-risk counties could self-isolate, spend a shorter time in managed isolation or combine the two.
- unvaccinated travellers and those from high-risk places would have to spend 14 days in managed isolation.
Trials will be needed to assess the viability of self-isolation or shortened stays in managed isolation. A pilot scheme where vaccinated workers will be allowed to travel overseas and self-isolate at home on their return is also set to be trialled between October and December this year.
Most importantly, the government has also announced changes to the current MIQ online booking system to make it more transparent and easier to secure a place. Changes include a virtual queuing system – removing the ‘first-come, first-serve’ way rooms are currently booked – and advanced notice given about when large numbers of rooms will become available. While these changes won’t fix what is a problematic system (I can attest to it being a stressful process having gone through it at the end of last year), they are encouraging signs.
When will tourists be allowed to visit our fair shores?
While the government has not yet used the world ‘tourists’ or ‘visitors’ regarding its plans to begin reopening the border, it is certainly a positive step forward in allowing travellers from low-risk countries to visit from next year, without having to go into managed isolation and quarantine.
University of Otago department of tourism senior lecturer Julia Albrecht says that given what the government has suggested to date, New Zealand could see “small numbers of international visitors from selected countries” in the first half of 2022. While it is still unclear which countries this will include, it’s likely to be those deemed by the government to be low or medium risk.