The New Zealand government has consulted with Air New Zealand to slow ticket sales for returning citizens as quarantine hotels reach maximum capacity in the country.
Megan Woods, the government minister supervising the 14-day quarantine system in New Zealand, said in a media release on July 7 that due to a “big growth” in numbers of returning citizens, ticket sales will be temporarily suspended for flights into New Zealand.
Woods went on to explain that the hold on new bookings is to align the number of arrivals with the capacity available at isolation facilities.
Woods assured people who had already purchased tickets that they would still be able to enter New Zealand.
However, their arrival will be subject to the availability of space in quarantine hotels.
“Our number one priority is stopping the virus at the border, so everyone must go into quarantine or managed isolation. The government is also talking to other airlines about managing flows,” said Woods.
“The last thing we need is 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 continued to explain.
New Zealand’s military quarantine commander Air Commodore Darryn Webb noted in Woods media release that the government is “scaling up more spaces all the time, but we need to do so safely.”
Creating a new facility for people to stay in for 14 days of isolation is a very complex task said the Air Commodore.
The appropriate levels of health and other services nearby are needed to do it properly. It would also require a contingent of defence force personnel, and extra security to ensure that people are looked after properly, and to make sure that there is minimal risk of COVID-19 getting out into the community.
“These temporary measures will ease the current demand on facilities while additional supply is brought online. In the past three weeks, we have brought on the capacity of ten new facilities for 2,000 more people,” Webb said.
Currently, the New Zealand government has plans to add another 750 hotel rooms to the quarantine system in the coming weeks.
Woods’ announcement comes after the Ardern government was criticised in June for bussing returnees to Rotorua after quarantine hotel facilities became filled in Auckland.
According to the New Zealand Herald on June 21, returning New Zealanders were not given adequate notice of the changes to their quarantine, causing distress.
Air Commodore Webb said in a statement on June 21 that he acknowledged those arriving on this flight had an expectation they were completing their managed isolation in Auckland.
“However, an increase in arrivals returning to New Zealand has required alternative plans to be put in place,” he said.
Webb went on to say that he sympathised with the travellers predicament but would make no apologies for “the tough rules that are in place.”
According to the New Zealand government, over 26,000 people have returned to the country since borders closed in late March and there are nearly 6,000 people in 28 managed quarantine facilities around the Pacific island nation.
New Zealand’s last known case of local transmission of COVID-19 was over two months ago, and all current cases are people who tested positive while in quarantine.