Safe, orderly exit plan for stranded foreign nationals

Safe, orderly exit plan for stranded foreign nationals

Venkat Raman
Auckland, April 4, 2020

(Image from Facebook)

The New Zealand government is working out a ‘Safe Travel Plan’ for foreign nationals stranded in the country but the challenge is to work with foreign governments, civil aviation authorities and others to administer an orderly plan.

It would be even more critical to ensure that Covid-19 is not spread further by spate of travel.

The challenge and problem

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters said that while the government’s priority continues to be public health and fight against the spread of the coronavirus, it is also recognised that not all foreign nationals have the resources to self-isolate and many of them may want to return to their home countries.

The exact number of foreign nationals wanting to go home is not known but it could be ‘tens of thousands,’ as Mr Peters said.

The New Zealand government has extended all temporary visas that have expired or due to expire until September 30, 2020.

Mt Peters said that the government has developed a seriously detailed plan for the exit of foreign nationals, without endangering the lives of others,” Mr Peters said.

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 to Auckland by Qatar Airways. 

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.  

Reducing the impact

Mr 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.”

Mr Peters 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.  

Air New Zealand charters

“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. All passengers will also be required to complete any health requirements as necessary at their airport of departure,” Mr Peters said.

Who cannot go

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 (a) Has been diagnosed with Covid-19 (b)  Has symptoms consistent with Covid-19 (d) Is waiting for COVID-19 results (d) Is a close contact of a suspected/probable/confirmed case of COVID-19 or (e ) Has travelled internationally in past 14 days.

Further details are available at www.covid19.govt.nz.

Foreign nationals should contact their Embassy or High Commission for further advice.

RNZ on Danish travellers

Radio New Zealand reported this morning:

Canberra based Denmark’s Ambassador Tom Norring said several thousand of its citizens were here in the weeks before the coronavirus crisis escalated globally.

Danes travelling abroad were officially called home on 13 March, and Norring said that several thousand Danes were in New Zealand prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 here.

“But perhaps as many as half were unable to get out in time and were caught out when New Zealand went into Level 4 lockdown on March 26, 2020 which banned all travel within the country except for essential workers and short trips to get groceries and medicine. That put a lot of European citizens and Danish citizens travelling to airports or waiting for their flights out that took them by surprise, not least because the decision to lockdown included stopping travel from the South Island to the North Island. And in that period, international flights were reduced significantly,” he said.

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