All borders and ports were shut on 19 March 2020, and the country has only since opened to a select number of people with citizenship or essential reasons to return.
Even New Zealand citizens and those with a right to residence have not been allowed back in from most other countries, meaning years-long separations for those with expat family members.
Authorities had announced that a phased reopening would begin from mid-January; however, on 21 December, ministers told press that this would be delayed by at least a month.
So what are the new dates, and what does this mean for trips to New Zealand in 2022?
Here’s everything we know so far.
What are the current rules for travel to New Zealand?
Practically no foreign arrivals are currently allowed into New Zealand.
There are a few exemptions, such as being family members of residents, or for compassionate reasons, but you must apply to the NZ government with your reason.
Most travellers must still undergo Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) for 10 days after arrival, as well as taking pre- and post-travel tests.
When will more foreign travellers be allowed in?
The initial plan had been for New Zealand to allow quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated visitors from Australia from 16 January, and from other countries from 13 February 2022.
Double-jabbed international tourists from the wider world were to be allowed in from 30 April.
It is understood that this April date would still be a phased reopening, with people from certain countries or with certain visa types prioritised.
However, the quick spread of the more transmissible Omicron variant has changed things – on 21 December, New Zealand’s Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced that the proposed January date would be delayed by at least a month.
Now, New Zealand citizens and residents won’t be able to enter from Australia until the end of February, while the country is still working towards admitting foreign tourists from elsewhere “from April”.
The Foreign Office advice for the country has yet to be updated.
At the same press conference, authorities said the current length of stay in state “managed quarantine” facilities will be increased from a week to 10 days, while the testing window for the present pre-departure test (required for those who can enter) has been reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours before travel.
Air New Zealand subsequently announced the cancellation of 120 services through to the end of February, affecting around 27,000 customers.
New Zealand has reported 22 cases of the Omicron variant, with all cases caught at the border or while travellers were in quarantine.
“We are fortunate we still have MIQ [Managed Isolation and Quarantine] in place. Without it, Omicron would already be in the community and Christmas plans would be under threat,” said Hipkins.
When will more information on reopening dates be given?
It is unclear when New Zealand is planning to officially update its reopening dates and travel regulations.
But it is safe to say they will likely start with fully vaccinated visitors only, and bar countries with high rates of a variant of concern for as long as possible.
Hipkins was positive about the country’s ability to cope with Omicron, saying: “We start our response to Omicron with a number of advantages on our side. We have over 90 per cent and rising of the population fully vaccinated, we still have our border protections and MIQ in place, school has finished for the year and we are heading into summer when we are outdoors more.”
He also pointed out that over 82 per cent of vaccinated New Zealanders will be eligible for a booster by the end of February 2022.
Hipkins said February was a key turning point for protecting the country, suggesting that this may also be the time the full plan for a reopening is revealed.
“By the end of February, when we revisit the phased border re-opening, around three million more Kiwis will be eligible for the booster shots and the rollout to five to 11-year-olds will be well underway,” he said.