New Zealand will allow returning citizens to self-isolate rather than enter quarantine facilities from late February, while international tourists will be welcomed back starting in July at the latest, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday as the nation looks to scale back its pandemic border restrictions.

The new quarantine rules will take effect for vaccinated New Zealanders as well as other eligible travelers coming from Australia from Feb. 27, and be applied to vaccinated citizens and visa holders returning from anywhere else across the globe two weeks later, Ardern said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. (Getty/Kyodo)

The country, which closed its borders to foreigners in early 2020 in response to the spread of the coronavirus, will allow vaccinated skilled workers and working holiday makers from abroad to enter from March 13, while up to 5,000 international students can enter from April 12.

The reopening is being staggered to allow health and border systems to adjust to a likely increase in cases of the coronavirus.

Tourists from Japan, Australia and other visa-free countries will not be allowed in until July under the current plan, but Ardern stressed this was the latest anticipated date, with a "high likelihood" it would be brought forward as the country progresses through the pandemic.

Travelers from the rest of the world will have to wait until October, however.

"Opening back up in this managed way balances inflows of travelers so people can reunite and fill our workforce shortages, while also ensuring our healthcare system can manage an increase in cases," said Ardern.

Travelers will be required to self-isolate at home for 10 days, with mandatory quarantine in state-run facilities to remain only for high-risk travelers such as those unvaccinated.

New Zealand has maintained some of the world's strictest border controls during the pandemic, in a largely successful bid to keep the virus at bay.

The population of about 5 million has seen about 17,000 cases of COVID-19, and just 53 deaths so far, well below many comparable nations.

At present, foreigners are banned from entry under the strict rules, and citizens are required to stay in state-run quarantine facilities upon returning. Citizens can either apply for an emergency allocation of a spot at the quarantine facilities, or enter a controversial lottery for the spot.

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