New Zealand moves up reopening for vaccinated US tourists to May as COVID cases surge

New Zealand is set to reopen to vaccinated U.S. travelers earlier than expected.

Fully vaccinated U.S. travelers will be able to visit as soon as May, officials said Tuesday.

New Zealand originally said it would reopen to U.S. tourists in July. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said moving up the reopening date is meant to help accelerate the country's economic recovery. 

“Closing our border was one of the first actions we took to stop COVID-19 two years ago. It did the job we needed. But now that we’re highly vaccinated and predicted to be off our Omicron peak, it’s now safe to open up,” Ardern said in a statement.  

Starting May 1 at 11:59 p.m., fully vaccinated travelers from the U.S. and other non-visa countries can enter New Zealand without a quarantine period.

According to the New Zealand Government's website, travelers need "a full COVID-19 vaccine course," such as one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, to be considered fully vaccinated. A full list of the approved vaccinations can be found online.   

Visitors will need to show proof of a negative pre-departure coronavirus test to enter and will be provided two free at-home rapid antigen tests upon arrival. The first test should be taken on the day of arrival and the second should be taken on day five or six.

Auckland, New Zealand.

SOUTH KOREA TO EASE TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS:South Korea to allow fully vaccinated travelers to visit without a quarantine period

HAVEN'T BOOKED AIRLINE TICKETS YET?:Don't dawdle. Bookings are bonkers, pushing prices up

If a tourist tests positive and confirms the results with a PCR test, they must self-isolate.  

The change was announced as the country faces a surge of COVID-19 cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says New Zealand has “very high” COVID-19 levels and warns U.S. travelers to avoid the country

“If you must travel to New Zealand, make sure you are vaccinated and up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines before travel,"  the agency says on its website.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz