New Zealand's borders are set for a shake-up that should see Kiwis flying in and out of Australia before Christmas.
COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins will make an announcement on the future of NZ's quarantine regime - known as MIQ - on Thursday.
Mr Hipkins has widely foreshadowed a shift away from the mandatory fortnight in MIQ for all international arrivals, a requirement of all travellers to NZ for the past 18 months.
"In the next few months that there will be much greater freedom to move in and out of the country with isolating at home being the default," Mr Hipkins told Kiwi media outlet Newsroom.
MIQ will be phased out for fully vaccinated Kiwis coming from low-risk countries in the coming weeks and months.
"We may put the restrictions on the nature of the travel initially. It might be for people normally resident in New Zealand, or New Zealand citizens or permanent residents," Mr Hipkins said.
"But within the next few months I think the default position at the border is going to be isolating at home. They will come into the country, go straight home and isolate for a period, and assuming they don't have COVID then that's it."
The move should allow Kiwis on both sides of the Tasman to reunite for Christmas.
New Zealanders in Australia are the biggest users of the oversubscribed MIQ system, which leaves many locked out of NZ.
Unlike Australia, NZ has given no exemptions to the compulsory fortnight in quarantine.
Even the trade minister, who has conducted two trips to Europe in the past six months, has spent two fortnights in a stock-standard quarantine hotel.
The shift away from MIQ will also end the flood of hard luck stories of Kiwis attempting to get home or visit overseas family on compassionate grounds.
Many have been denied travel due to a lack of MIQ availability, causing an almighty problem for the government.
The government had planned to shift from the MIQ system in the first quarter of 2022.
However, the ongoing spread of COVID-19 in the community, including Auckland and the Waikato, fast-tracked its thinking.
The seven-day rolling daily case count is at 95 and rising.
Given that, the government needs the MIQ beds to house Kiwis with COVID-19, rather than house international arrivals who largely test negative.
"It's going to reach the stage where cases in the community will present a bigger risk to us than cases coming across the border," Mr Hipkins said.
Australian Associated Press