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The Sky Tower and buildings in Auckland, New Zealand, on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Wellington: New Zealand on Tuesday postponed its phased border re-opening plans until the end of February citing the rapid global spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The South Pacific nation had just started easing some of the world’s toughest pandemic measures and its international border restrictions were to progressively loosen from January, with all foreign tourists allowed into the country from April.

Non-quarantine travel, which was to have opened for New Zealanders in Australia from Jan. 16, would be pushed back until the end of February, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said at a press conference in Wellington.

“All of the evidence so far points to Omicron being the most transmissible COVID-19 variant yet.

“There’s no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it’s important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans.” The measures were a precaution as it was still unclear how sick Omicron makes people and the impact it had on health systems was not yet fully understood, he said.

New Zealand also said the length of stay in state quarantine facilities would be increased from a week to 10 days. The pre-departure test requirement to enter New Zealand was reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours before travel.