Jacinda Ardern has accelerated the full reopening of New Zealand’s borders after declaring the Pacific country a “safe place” to visit just days after a poll showed her Labor party for the first time had fallen behind its main rival in five years.

The prime minister said on Wednesday that New Zealand was “ready to welcome the world back” as she pushed forward the reopening of the border for vaccinated travelers from Australia to the second week of April and for people arriving from other countries who do not require a visa. had to May from July.

The earlier reopening was announced just six weeks after Ardern said the country would gradually reopen after a two-year period as it took one of the strictest approaches in the world to contain the spread of Covid-19.

“We are ready to safely enter a new chapter in our management of the pandemic,” Ardern said, heralding the end of the “Fort New Zealand” era. She added that the country had the lowest number of deaths during the pandemic in the OECD.

Ardern’s popularity has waned since the start of the pandemic and last week her Labor party fell behind the National party in the polls for the first time since her election. According to 1News/Kantar, she was way ahead of her rival Christopher Luxon as Prime Minister of choice, but her rating of 34 percent had fallen sharply from 58 percent in 2020.

“Those glory days of Labor getting 50 percent support are really over,” said Bryce Edwards, a political analyst at the Victoria University of Wellington. “Those heights came at a time when New Zealand seemed to have completely eliminated Covid, and there really was a renewed ‘Jacindamania’. Since then, there have been numerous factors that have eroded the record of the government.”

The ruling party’s popularity waned in part due to frustration over the prolonged border closures and the handling of a protest against vaccine mandates outside the Wellington parliament building, which culminated in violence between police and protesters.

The latest poll has been triggered by a sharp rise in the cost of living after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has pushed the price of food and gasoline up. Luxon has promised a program of tax cuts, accusing the government of acting too slowly.

Ardern admitted this week that there was a “cost of living crisis” when she cut fuel taxes.

Edwards said the government would be credited for being flexible and listening to the public about borders and “bread and butter” issues, but other voters could see the changes as “coming under pressure”.

However, the accelerated reopening would be a boon to the country’s struggling tourism industry, which accounts for 5.5 percent of the country’s economy and 8 percent of its workforce.

Ardern said she wanted to welcome back Australians in particular, who made up 40 percent of total tourists before the pandemic hit, for the Easter holidays.

Covid-19 infections in New Zealand had risen sharply since Omicron’s inception in December, but fell to a seven-day moving average of about 20,000 cases last week.

This post Ardern speeds up border reopening as ‘Jacindamania’ declines

was original published at “https://www.ft.com/content/78321fca-8eda-491a-ad1b-9783f09d9028”