New Zealand’s borders were fully reopened when the latest Covid restrictions were lifted

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New Zealand’s borders are fully open for the first time since they were abruptly closed to keep out Covid-19 in March 2020.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the nation was “open for business” after the final phase of the gradual reopening, which began in April, was completed on Sunday night.

Visitors from around the world will once again be allowed into New Zealand, including maritime arrivals, those on student visas and those from visa-exempt countries such as China and India.

Ardern said the reopening was “a huge moment” in a speech to the China Business Summit on Monday morning.

“It has been a staged and careful process on our part since February as we, along with the rest of the world, continue to deal with a very vibrant global pandemic while keeping our people safe,” she said.

Related: ‘Many happy tears’: joy as New Zealand opens border after two years of isolation

“New Zealanders are hosts. Manaakitanga [hospitality] flows through our veins and we open our arms to tourists and students, including from China, which before 2020 was New Zealand’s largest source of international students, and the second largest source of tourists.

“For those who wish to travel here, haere mai, we welcome you.”

Cruise ships and foreign pleasure yachts will also be allowed to dock at the country’s ports. The tourism minister, Stuart Nash, said the return of cruise ships – whose guests spent NZ$365 million ashore a year before the pandemic – would be a major boost to local economies.

“Most cruise visits are in the warmer months of October to April … It will be full steam ahead for the industry, which can plan with confidence for the rest of the year and beyond,” Nash said in a statement.

Tourism operators, businesses and education providers have welcomed the news, despite predictions from Immigration New Zealand that visitors are more likely to trickle – than flood – in over the next few months.

“I think it’s safe to say we don’t expect the same level of demand that we saw pre-Covid. That’s probably for a number of reasons,” Immigration New Zealand’s Simon Sanders told national broadcaster RNZ.

“We know that China, which is a major visitor visa-requiring country, is still subject to a number of travel restrictions, so we don’t expect much demand from there, at least initially.”

He urged students who have offers to study to apply for visas immediately, and urged those who want to study in 2023 to wait a couple of months “so that we can ensure that those who have to arrive this year will be able to do so”.

The full reopening comes as New Zealand ranks in the top seven countries in the world for average daily confirmed Covid cases per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

A University of Auckland study released last week warned that the reopening of the border could cause foreign-seeded Covid-19 cases to jump fourfold – putting further strain on an already creaking health system.

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