New Zealanders could be blocked at their own border after the government moved to slow the pace of international arrivals due to Covid-19.
Mounting pressure on New Zealand’s Covid-19 border regime has forced the government to ration places for New Zealanders entering the country.
Jacinda Ardern’s government has struck a deal with Air New Zealand to limit the number of places available for international arrivals, given the strain on compulsory isolation facilities.
The housing minister, Megan Woods, said a ban on bookings had been implemented, and some Kiwis who have Air NZ tickets may not be let in.
“Air New Zealand has agreed to put a temporary hold on new bookings in the short term, as well as looking at aligning daily arrivals with the capacity available at managed isolation facilities,” she said.
“People who have already booked flights with Air New Zealand will still be able to enter New Zealand subject to availability of quarantine space.”
Air New Zealand said the hold would last for three weeks, and may move some customers to other flights. Woods said she was talking to other airlines “about managing flows”.
The move will be contentious, as New Zealand’s bill of rights gives citizens the right to enter and leave New Zealand.
Like Australia, New Zealand is one of a handful of countries worldwide attempting to quarantine international arrivals for 14 days to ensure Covid-19 does not enter the community.
To do this, the government has set up “managed isolation” hotels for new arrivals, with anyone testing positive moved to a “quarantine” hotel until they are free of the deadly virus.
New Zealand has not had a case of community transmission in more than two months, even as worldwide cases balloon to over 11 million. The border controls are the only restriction remaining in New Zealand, which did away with curbs on groups gathering last month.
The New Zealand government is footing the bill for the quarantine regime, which currently involves 28 hotels and is budgeted to cost around $NZ300m this year.
Woods says the government is currently housing almost 6,000 people and something has to give. “The last thing we need are hastily set up facilities to meet demand, so we must have a manageable number of fit-for-purpose, safe facilities that do the job of stopping covid at the border,” Woods said.
Last month, defence force personnel were drafted in to help lead the logistical challenge. Air Commodore Darryn Webb said they were “scaling up more spaces all the time, but we need to do so safely and new facilities need to be watertight before they are opened”.
“Standing up new capacity at the required levels for people to stay in for 14 days of isolation is a hugely complex undertaking.”