Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has denied the Government put restrictions on incoming flights into New Zealand because it was overwhelmed by new passenger arrivals.

Rather the restrictions would help spread the arrival numbers out and act as a preventative measure to ensure everyone could be housed in an isolation facility safely, she said.

"What we are seeing is an increasing number of returning New Zealanders putting pressure on the system," Ardern said.

That had led to forecasts of up to 700 Kiwis arriving in the country every day.


To ensure those numbers didn't become a problem the Government confirmed this morning it would start restricting how many people could book seats on flights into the country.

"It's just about managing that flow," Ardern said.

Authorities usually only got a heads up on how many Kiwis were arriving and how many isolation and quarantine places were needed once a flight landed, putting pressure on the system, she said.

The Government had been increasing the number of isolation and quarantine facilities that were available to new arrivals, but the new measures would enable them to do it in a safe manner that met all protocols, she said.

She also rejected suggestions the restrictions were over the top.

"I wouldn't call it a drastic step," she said.

She pointed to how the Australian state of New South Wales had set a maximum cap of 50 people being allowed on any one flight into its airports and a maximum of 450 total per day.

She said the airlines had been "fantastic" to work with.


When asked what the restrictions would mean to Air NZ's bank balance, Ardern pointed to the Government's offer of a loan to support the company.

She also said that what was impacting the airline most was the overall "Covid-19 environment".

"But domestic routes are up and doing well," she said.

Ardern reiterated that all Kiwis who had flights booked to New Zealand would be allowed to enter the country.

The new restrictions - that were expected to last about three weeks - would, however, stop people from booking new flights into the country.

"No one is being stopped from coming home, it is just a bit of spreading over the period," she said.


"It will affect any Kiwi who decides today that they might want to go tomorrow, [and] might have to book a little further ahead."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also spoke about the primary industry opportunities that New Zealand needs to capitalise on.

Ardern was speaking after outlining a plan to lift primary sector earnings by $44 billion over the next 10 years by creating value and employing more people, while at the same time sticking to environmentally sustainability targets.

Ardern said the primary sector had already made significant strides to improve the sustainability of New Zealand's products and practices, but there was potential to go further.

New Zealand had invested in its farming sector to boost exports following the Covid-19 downturn, she said.

That included investments in marketing and helping the primary industries sector come up with innovative new products and practices.


Farming products produced according to sustainable practices can attract premium prices overseas, Ardern said.

She said that despite the Covid-19 global market's downturn, some New Zealand premium products were bringing in greater revenues due to increased demand for safer, higher quality foods from around the globe.

The PM's appearance at Mt Albert in Auckland came after minister in charge of quarantine and isolation facilities Megan Woods this morning confirmed the Government was restricting seats on international flights into New Zealand.

This would enable the Government to safely place New Zealanders arriving home into a managed isolation or quarantine facility, said Woods.

"We were never going to let border facilities reach maximum capacity," she said.

While New Zealand wasn't running out of space yet, it was necessary to step in now and manage the situation, she said.


Woods said the Government and Air New Zealand had agreed to manage incoming bookings in the short term.

"We cannot let this continue to be a purely demand-driven system".

She reiterated Kiwis booked on flights over the next three weeks would still be able to come back and these measures would be short term. She expected the block on new bookings would last for three weeks.

That meant someone with a booking a month out can still come back but there won't be any new bookings for three weeks, she said.

That would help the Government have more certainty about exactly how many people were coming in.

"We're doing this so we can ensure we have that very strong line of defence," Woods said.


Air New Zealand makes up about 80 per cent of the inflow into the country so it was critical it was on board. The Government was in talks with other airlines to take similar measures, Woods said.

Woods, however, hasn't had discussions with Air New Zealand about the potential financial impact of the measures.

Air Commodore Darryn Webb said there were now nearly 6000 people in 28 managed isolation facilities and the new limits on returning passengers would help authorities increase the number of rooms available.

Masked health officials wait at Auckland International Airport to check in with arriving international passengers. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Masked health officials wait at Auckland International Airport to check in with arriving international passengers. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"These temporary measures will ease the current demand on facilities while additional supply is brought on line," he said.

"In the past three weeks we have brought on capacity 10 new facilities for 2000 more people, and have a plan to bring on another 750 places in the coming weeks."

Air NZ responds

Air New Zealand this morning confirmed it had put a hold on new bookings for international services landing in New Zealand.


As well as the temporary hold on new bookings for the next three weeks, the airline was also looking at aligning daily arrivals with the capacity available at managed isolation facilities.

This might mean some passengers would need to be moved to another flight and have travel plans disrupted.

Air New Zealand chief commercial and customer officer Cam Wallace said the airline had been working closely with the Government to understand how it could support efforts to contain Covid-19 at the border.

"We accept this is a necessary short-term measure given the limited capacity in quarantine facilities."

The airline was contacting customers affected by these changes from today.

The Prime Minister is expected to address concerns about a cap being put on how many people can enter the country. Photo / File
The Prime Minister is expected to address concerns about a cap being put on how many people can enter the country. Photo / File

Its contact centre was currently experiencing very high demand, and customers were asked to contact the airline through social media channels.


Those who booked using a travel agent, including third-party websites such as Expedia and, were advised to speak directly with their agent.

Those leaving the country on Air New Zealand flights were not affected by the latest restrictions. Domestic flights were not impacted.