A Government-backed mercy flight may be on the cards after a private charter flight to bring home Kiwis stranded in South Africa due to the Covid-19 outbreak was cancelled.
The Lion Air-operated flight was due to depart this week but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) said it had been told by the operators the flight was off.
"We have been advised by the organisers of the private charter of the flight's cancellation and we understand refunds will be offered," an Mfat spokeswoman said.
She said the ministry was now working towards organising a mercy flight to help about 170 New Zealanders return home.
"We continue to work on the feasibility of a New Zealand Government–assisted repatriation flight and are in advanced discussions with possible providers, although no final decisions have been made," she said.
"Mfat is putting in a great deal of work to help New Zealanders in South Africa who are keen to come home."
In an email sent to those who had registered with SafeTravel on Tuesday night, the ministry said it was not possible for Kiwis to take an Australian-organised repatriation flight to Perth.
"The flight is very well subscribed by Australians, and there is no ability to transit Perth to New Zealand for New Zealanders at this stage," it said.
The ministry, it said, had been working over the past week on options for a NZ-organised flight.
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"In the current global environment, organising such a charter flight is complex and difficult, and we are not yet able to say for certain that a flight will go ahead. But we are in discussions with several providers and we are making progress," it said.
The flight, if it goes ahead, will take place only on or after May 7, 2020, but which city in South Africa the flight might depart from is yet to be determined.
NZ citizens will be given priority over permanent residents and foreign nationals and passengers would be charged a flat fee of $5500 each for the flight.
"This reflects the high operational costs and complexity associated with charter flights in the current environment," it said.
Prakash Mani, who is with a group helping Kiwis stuck in South Africa, said many of those stranded were desperate.
"Some of these people are in desperate situation including but not limited to running out of medication, running out of money, personal safety risks, and no place to stay anymore," he said.
Mani's wife, a cancer patient and in desperate need of her medication and doctor visits, is among those stuck in the republic.
Richard Watkins said his stranded wife Tanya Ritter, who was supposed to be on the private charter flight, was devastated at its cancellation.
"Tanya was devastated yesterday when the Lion Air flight was cancelled, especially when footage of repatriation of Australian citizens trapped in South Africa was screened on the news being transported to the airport in buses," Watkins said.
However, Watkins said they remained hopeful over Mfat's flight as it was "the first realistic proposal" by the ministry to help those trapped there.