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NZ allows returning Kiwis from January 17

New Zealanders in Australia will be able to skip quarantine from early next year as NZ takes baby steps to dismantle its hard border.

From January 17, fully vaccinated New Zealanders in Australia will be able to return home if they self-isolate for a week.

New Zealanders in other countries will be able to follow suit from February 14.

Non-Kiwis can visit from April 30, but must still self-isolate for a week, keeping international tourism on ice for several months.

COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said vaccination rates meant "the time is right to carefully start the reopening of our borders" in a "progressive and safe way".

"It's very encouraging that as a country we are now in a position to move towards greater normality," he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she resisted a push to open the border to overseas-based Kiwis this year in order to enable New Zealanders to "have the Christmas they deserve".

"We need to make sure we move cautiously," she said.

Mr Hipkins said the first two dates were "locked in" and people should make plans accordingly.

There remains some prospect the April 30 date may change based on public health advice, while Mr Hipkins also signalled a "bespoke" arrangement could be created to help international students.

The changes are the most significant since the government closed its borders in March 2020, and call time on New Zealand's much-loathed quarantine regime, known as "MIQ".

Currently, all entrants to New Zealand must win a place in MIQ through a ballot, with limited exemptions for compassionate or economic reasons.

Arrivals must then pay to spend a week in a quarantine hotel, before self-isolating for a further three days.

More than 190,000 people have gone through MIQ, but those who have missed out have been locked out of their own country.

The decision to delay the reopening to January will see many trans-Tasman families kept apart over Christmas.

Mr Hipkins acknowledged the suffering, but said the system was crucial in minimising the impact of coronavirus in New Zealand.

"When it comes to COVID-19, there are often no easy decisions," he said.

"We've often been faced with the task of making the least worst decision ... the border is clearly an example of that."

The changes also spell the end of the trans-Tasman bubble, a three-month quarantine-free travel exemption between COVID-free regions of Australia and New Zealand between April and July this year.

"The bubble doesn't exist any more," Mr Hipkins said.

"The bubble was a construct that was established when there was no COVID-19 in New Zealand or Australia. And that is no longer the case on either side of the Tasman."

No exemptions for sports teams have been made, meaning trans-Tasman sporting competitions which were banking on freer movement in 2022 must re-draw their fixtures.

It also means the NZ-hosted Cricket World Cup will be played in March without foreign fans.

Further details on self-isolation will be released next month, but travellers will still be subject to a range of conditions.

They must have a negative pre-departure test, proof of vaccination, complete a travel declaration, take a test on arrival, have a suitable self-isolation venue and undergo another test before entering the community.

On Wednesday, health officials announced another 215 community cases of COVID-19, including 181 in Auckland.

There are 87 New Zealanders in hospital, including eight in intensive care.

NEW ZEALAND'S COVID BATTLE: KEY DATES

November 29 - Cabinet meeting to set final parameters of vaccine pass system

December 3 - NZ switches to vaccine pass system

December 15 - Removal of Auckland border for vaccinated

Janiary 14 - Cook Islands to allow quarantine-free travel from NZ

January 17 - Australian-based New Zealanders can self-isolate on arrival

February 14 - New Zealanders from other countries can self-isolate on arrival

April 30 - All international travellers can self-isolate on arrival

© AAP 2021