COVID-19: Shock New Zealand move to isolate nearly all visitors

March 14, 2020
Air NZ
Photo: Airbus

Airlines are scrambling to adapt to draconian travel restrictions that require every person landing in New Zealand from almost anywhere in the world to self-isolate for 14 days.

The new regime applies to visitors from countries other than a list of Pacific Island and China and Iran, which have total travel bans in place. It takes effect from midnight Sunday will be reviewed in 16 days’ time.

Kiwis returning home are also affected and cruise ships have been banned from visiting New Zealand until at least June 30.

READ: Trump’s COVID-19 travel ban could see more airlines fail.

“As of midnight Sunday every person entering New Zealand, including returning New Zealand citizens and residents, will be required to enter self-isolation for 14 days,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern said. “Everybody.”

The Pacific Island exemption applies only to people who are well and Adern said anyone from those countries who exhibited signs of COVID-19 upon arrival would be required to automatically self–isolate.

“Alongside Israel, and a small number of Pacific Islands who have effectively closed their border, this decision will mean New Zealand will have the widest-ranging and toughest border restrictions of any country in the world,” she said.

“We are also encouraging New Zealanders to avoid all non-essential travel overseas. This helps reduce the risk of a New Zealander bringing COVID-19 back with them.”

The policy will have a major economic impact on a country where tourism is a key industry and the impact will also be felt in neighboring Australia.

Air New Zealand said its contact centers and social media channels were experiencing a high volume of traffic and encouraged customers to contact it only if their flight was departing in the next 48 hours.

It said it would allow affected customers due to depart up until March 31 to receive a refund, hold the fare in credit for 12 months or amend the date without change fees.

The Kiwi carrier subsequently boosted the size of its contact center and social media customer care team to deal with the surge in queries.

“All customers should check our travel alerts page for information and guidance before getting in touch,” said Air New Zealand senior customer care manager Doug Grant.

 “We really appreciate the patience and understanding of all our customers at this difficult time. The entire Air New Zealand team is focussed on providing care and support for our customers.”

Qantas told passengers holding a ticket for flights to or from New Zealand before March 31 who no longer wished to travel could cancel their flight and retain the value of their ticket in credit to be used for travel within 12 months of the original issue date. It would waive the change fee on rebooking.

Virgin Australia said it planned to operate all Virgin Australia flights to and from New Zealand until March 22 and then expected to reduce services.

It offered passengers with bookings to New Zealand until 30 June who no longer wanted to travel the option to change their flight to a later date or to a different destination without a change fee.

“They are also eligible to receive credit to a travel bank with no cancellation fee,” it said.

Seeking to avoid a run on supermarkets, Adern emphasized that the measures do not apply to cargo ships or planes or to marine or aircrew.

“In short, no one needs to conduct a run on their supermarket,” she said. “It’s worth remembering that we’ve had travel restrictions on China for over a month, and those supply routes continue.

“We are mindful that some items that come into New Zealand travel via passenger flights.

“That’s why support, where needed, will be provided to ensure that essential air freight like pharmaceuticals continue to be shipped into New Zealand.”

The New Zealand PM also acknowledged that the travel restrictions would place a significant strain on the aviation industry and said it was anticipated some routes would cease for a period of time.

“As such the Government will work closely with the aviation sector to encourage and support airlines to remain active in New Zealand so that we can re-bound from the restrictions quickly and not have significant impacts on our tourism sector, exporters, and economy,” she said.