A young couple trying to return to New Zealand have been split on opposite sides of the globe as our country seemingly tightened its border lockdown rules while they were mid-air.

The confusion comes as thousands of Kiwis have registered they are overseas, with many still trying to get home.

Italian man Alessio Maltrotto met his partner Rose Bayldon in her home country of New Zealand but they were both studying in Sweden when the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

"Suddenly things changed because of the virus," Maltrotto said.

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The pair made a decision to go back to New Zealand together, booking flights at a time when tourists were still being accepted albeit expected to self-isolate.

Due to the expense of flights on offer they booked separate flights, with Maltrotto due to touch down in Auckland shortly after Bayldon this morning.

Maltrotto said they did not consider this could be a problem until Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the border would close on March 19 at 23.59pm to non-residents and non-citizens.

However, the couple say the Immigration New Zealand (INZ) website stated: "All affected travellers must have checked in for their flight to New Zealand by this time."

A deadline Maltrotto had met having already checked in, ready to embark on the first leg to Dubai of the long-haul two-flight journey.

The information the young couple relied on when making the decision to travel.
The information the young couple relied on when making the decision to travel.

Bayldon's family at home say they were reassured by INZ on the phone that as long as Maltrotto was checked in before the deadline he would be accepted on both his flights.

But when Maltrotto arrived in Dubai the website suddenly read: "All affected foreign travellers must have boarded their flight to New Zealand by 23:59 on Thursday 19 March 2020 (NZDT)."

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"For me it was too late. I read this when I was already here in Dubai," he said.

"It's not my fault ... once I have a boarding ticket I am already on the way."

Maltrotto is now stuck in Dubai and could wait days to fly back to Sweden.

"I have basically lost the flight to New Zealand," Maltrotto said.

"I have to buy another ticket to go back to Stockholm and they are really expensive flights, they are non-refundable."

Maltrotto has not been in Italy during the Covid-19 outbreak there and does not believe it is safe for his family's health if he tried to go to them now.

He said he appreciated this was a crisis, and people were scared, but he hoped he could be reunited with Bayldon.

"I would to love to be with her. At the moment, we don't know when we will manage to be together again."

While herself in transit in Doha, Bayldon learned Maltrotto had been turned away and had more than 16 hours onboard her flight to Auckland to think about what had unfolded.

It was upsetting but they had realised something like this could happen with how fast-changing the situation was, she said.

The decision to come home had been a difficult one.

"My university was telling me to come home and my parents were really worried," she said.

"I really felt like I needed to come home, but in retrospect I think I may have stayed there."

Nobody had been malicious at all but the process had been confusing and ended up being unfair, she said.

"We didn't expect special treatment, and we know there are a lot of people in worse situations than us, but we thought we were following the rules."

She said was grateful their landlord in Sweden had been so kind and willing to help Maltrotto.

The couple would look at applying for a partnership visa months down the track, as soon as things settle - "that might be a potential solution".

Immigration New Zealand has declined to comment on the case.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said they were undertaking the largest consular response in the history of the New Zealand government.

"MFAT consular advisers in Wellington and around the world are responding to unprecedented numbers of inquiries from New Zealanders facing global travel disruptions."

There are more than 23,000 New Zealanders registered on SafeTravel, of which more than 10,000 say they are living overseas rather than travelling, she said.

"We expect the numbers to fluctuate as New Zealanders return home, and as more people overseas register on SafeTravel. As registration is voluntary these numbers do not represent the total number of New Zealanders overseas."