New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that the country is not ready yet to fully reopen, but border restrictions can be eased in a phased manner from early next year.
Ms Ardern said the government will move to a new individual risk-based model for quarantine-free travel that will establish low, medium and high-risk pathways into the country from the first quarter of 2022.
It will also speed up its vaccination rollout with all eligible ages able to book in their vaccine by 1 September, she said in a speech at a forum about reconnecting New Zealanders to the world.
Ms Ardern said the changes would be "careful and deliberate" to avoid allowing variants such as the highly contagious Delta strain into the country, where there is no local transmission and domestic life is close to normal.
"Rushing could see us in the situation many other countries are finding themselves in," she said, citing an outbreak of the Delta variant in neighbouring Australia that has forced its two largest cities into renewed lockdown.
Ms Ardern won widespread praise for her decisive early response to the pandemic, resulting in just 26 deaths in a population of five million.
But New Zealand's vaccine rollout has been less stellar, with under 20% of the population fully inoculated.
The centre-left leader has faced calls to ease border measures from sectors such as healthcare, hospitality and agriculture, which are facing acute labour shortages due to the absence of foreign workers.
Ms Ardern said vaccinations would ramp up with the goal of offering jabs to all the eligible population by year's end, allowing a relaxation of border policies.
Under the proposed changes, international arrivals would be assessed on vaccination status and whether they have travelled from a country deemed high, medium or low risk.
They could face the full two-week quarantine, a shorter period of isolation, home isolation or quarantine-free entry if they are vaccinated and come from a low-risk country.
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"Our ultimate goal is to get to quarantine-free travel for all vaccinated travellers," Ms Ardern said, without providing a timetable.
She said international travel would never be the same as it was before the pandemic.
"Vaccines, border testing and maybe a bit of monitoring of symptoms when you travel will eventually become our baseline. And we will get used to it," she said.
New Zealand's tentative attempts to relax border controls have so far met with mixed success.
A travel bubble with Australia faced numerous disruptions and was finally suspended in June as multiple outbreaks spread across the Tasman Sea.
Quarantine-free travel is allowed with the tiny Cook Islands, and New Zealand this month launched a scheme to bring in seasonal workers from Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu without having to self-isolate.
Sydney seeks to tighten curbs, Canberra enters lockdown
Extra Australian military personnel may be called in to ensure compliance with lockdown rules in Sydney, the New South Wales state government has said, as the highly infectious Delta coronavirus variant spreads into regional areas.
The move comes as Australia's capital, Canberra, 260km southwest of Sydney, entered a snap one-week lockdown after reporting its first locally acquired case of Covid-19 in more than a year.
Australia is battling to get on top of the Delta strain that has plunged two of its largest cities - Sydney and Melbourne - into hard lockdowns.
"We are making sure that we do not leave any stone unturned in relation to extra (military) resources," New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a media conference.
A spokesperson for Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the NSW government has indicated it will soon formally request additional military support.
Some 580 unarmed army personnel are already helping police enforce home-quarantine orders on affected households in the worst-affected suburbs of Sydney, Australia's most populous city.
Several regional towns scattered across NSW have also been forced into snap lockdowns after fresh cases, raising fears the virus is spreading out of control.
Despite seven weeks of lockdown in Sydney, daily infections continue to hover near record highs.
NSW today reported 345 new locally acquired cases, most of them in Sydney, up from 344 yesterday.
Lockdown rules were tightened in three more local council areas in Sydney, limiting the movement of people to within 5km of their homes.
Officials also reported two deaths, two men in their 90s, taking the total deaths in the latest outbreak to 36.
A total of 374 cases are in hospitals, with 62 in intensive care, 29 of whom require ventilation.
Neighbouring Victoria state reported 21 new locally acquired cases today, up from 20 a day earlier, as five million residents of Melbourne, the state capital, prepare to enter a second week of lockdown.
Of the new cases, six spent time outdoors while infectious, a number which authorities have said must return to near zero before restrictions can be eased.
Authorities extended the lockdown in Melbourne until 19 August.
Australia has largely avoided the high coronavirus numbers seen in many other countries, with just over 37,700 cases and 946 deaths, and several states remain almost Covid-19 free despite the outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne.
But the rapid spread of the Delta variant in New South Wales and a slow vaccine rollout has left the country vulnerable to a new wave of infections.
Only around 24% of people above 16 years of age are fully vaccinated, and experts see Australia heading into a cycle of stop-and-start lockdowns until a higher vaccination coverage is reached.