Foreigners stranded in New Zealand will start leaving the country from tomorrow.
Tens of thousands of holidaymakers will able to make a "safe, orderly exit", Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says.
The Government has just announced the plan to enable the safe, orderly exit of scores of foreign nationals stranded in New Zealand under the Covid-19 lockdown.
"When we moved into lockdown a week ago, the Government rightly prioritised public health, and limited the movement of people so as to restrict the spread of Covid-19. But it is clear that many foreign nationals travelling here do not have the resources or capability to adequately self-isolate, and wish to return home.
"We have taken the time and care to develop a seriously detailed plan for the exit of foreign nationals, without endangering the lives of others."
Under the managed exit plan:
• Foreign nationals returning home will be considered to be engaging in "essential travel", and therefore able to travel domestically (whether by air or land) when they have a confirmed and scheduled international flight out of New Zealand, subject to requirements which will be set out on www.covid19.govt.nz
• Foreign governments will be allowed to organise charter flights to repatriate their citizens, but only if they can satisfy New Zealand health requirements
• Commercial capacity between New Zealand and Europe will be increased, by New Zealand approving a second daily flight between Doha and Auckland by Qatar Airways.
The news was welcomed by Tourism Industry Aotearoa, who said it would allow tens of thousands of people the chance to get home.
"Publicity overseas about visitors being stranded in New Zealand was threatening to harm our international reputation," TIA chief executive Chris Roberts said.
"TIA has been highlighting their situation to the Government and we are pleased that a solution has been found to help those who want to get home.
"While they are still here, I urge all Kiwis to continue showing manaakitanga to our visitors. As our Prime Minister says: Be kind."
It is expected that the first foreign government-organised charter flight, operated by Air New Zealand, could leave New Zealand as early as Friday evening.
Commercial options continue to be available to stranded foreign nationals.
Peters said the public health and economic considerations of New Zealand and New Zealanders were paramount in the decision to facilitate the managed exit of stranded foreign nationals.
"We are conscious that returning foreign nationals to their home countries will reduce the potential pressure on health services in New Zealand, and reduce the risk of welfare issues developing for those people who are stranded and unable to afford to be here much longer."
He emphasised that travel restrictions associated with alert level 4 would continue to apply for all foreign nationals, except for those travelling to leave the country.
"If you do not have a confirmed international ticket, then you must stay in self-isolation. Stay put and continue to follow alert level 4 guidelines and maintain your bubble.
"New Zealanders returning home from overseas will continue to be subject to strict screening and self-isolation requirements; and domestic travel by New Zealanders will continue to be reserved for essential workers only.
"Given that Air New Zealand intends to fly charter flights from New Zealand to Europe for European governments, we will explore the extent to which New Zealanders can return in the planes on the way back."
Peters said foreign nationals seeking to leave New Zealand will not be allowed to leave self-isolation to travel if they are at risk of Covid-19. This includes anyone who:
• Has been diagnosed with Covid-19;
• Has symptoms consistent with Covid-19;
• Is waiting for Covid-19 results;
• Is a close contact of a suspected/probable/confirmed case of Covid-19; or
• Has travelled internationally in the past 14 days.
"All passengers will also be required to complete any health requirements as necessary at their airport of departure," Peters said.
Further details are available at www.covid19.govt.nz. Foreign nationals should contact their Embassy or High Commission for further advice.