New Zealand on Thursday announced it will ease border restrictions in phases starting this month.

In the first stage, vaccinated New Zealand nationals and eligible people from Australia will be allowed in from Feb. 27, while eligible individuals from other countries can enter from March 13, according to a government statement.

“This is a very carefully developed plan that replaces MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) for the vast majority of travelers, while ensuring we maintain ongoing measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community from recent arrivals,” said Chris Hipkins, New Zealand’s COVID-19 response minister.

He said the plan will allow nationals and key visa holders to start entering the country over the next three months to bolster the country’s “economic recovery and immediately address worker shortages.”

“With 94% of our population fully vaccinated, and 92% of those over 18 now eligible for a booster by the end of February, it’s time to shift gears in our COVID-19 response to focus on reconnection and recovery,” the minister said.

“By the time we start to reopen our border, we’ll be one of the most vaccinated and most boosted countries in the world and the COVID-19 Protection Framework will be well established in helping to manage COVID outbreaks.”

New Zealand’s previous plan to reopen its borders from mid-January was shelved due to the rapid spread of the omicron variant across the world.

Commenting on the new reopening plan, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said only high-risk unvaccinated travelers will be placed in quarantine.

“Everyone else will be allowed to self-isolate,” she said at an event in Auckland, daily New Zealand Herald reported.

“There was life before, and there will be life after, COVID,” said Ardern.

“We are well on our way to reaching that destination. But we are not quite there yet.”

New Zealand’s COVID-19 case tally currently stands at 17,005, including 53 deaths, according to latest official figures.​​​​​​​

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