The Government is looking into emergency flights to rescue New Zealanders who are stranded overseas as commercial flights shut down due to coronavirus fears.
And speaking in the House today, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said that the Government would give an answer to whether the borders will be shut to non-residents “very very soon”.
National Party leader Simon Bridges is calling for borders to close for non-New Zealand citizens and permanent residents.
“The number of Covid-19 cases is increasing rapidly. We’ve seen enough internationally and in New Zealand to know that this is the right move,” Bridges said.
“All 28 diagnosed cases in New Zealand have come from people travelling from overseas.”
Peters later told reporters that those matters – and others including whether travel from the Pacific should be further restricited after a Covid-19 case was confirmed in Fiji – would be discussed at a special Cabinet meeting at 4pm today.
This followed an announcement by Peters today of a “do not travel” guideline – the first time it has been done in New Zealand.
“It’s a very tough message. It’s unprecedented, but we have to do it … until we can be assured that travel is safe in terms of our domestic population,” Peters told reporters today.
But with Qantas and Jetstar temporarily shutting down international flights, Peters said the Government was looking at emergency flights to help New Zealanders who might be stranded offshore.
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He would not be drawn on where those flights might head to, but it could be a place where a concentration of New Zealanders could get to.
“We’ve got to anticipate that, if we’ve got a whole lot of people offshore who can’t get home, they may be able to assemble in one place where we can get a plane to them, and bring them home and go through all the security measures at the same time.
“All those aspects are being looked at by a small team at this point in time.”
Last month New Zealanders, joined by some Australians, were evacuated from the coronavirus ground-zero city of Wuhan in China on a special Air New Zealand co-ordinated with the New Zealand Government.
And six New Zealanders joined 165 Australians as they were evacuated from the coronavirus-infected Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan on an Australian Government-chartered Qantas flight.
Australia announced a “do not travel” advice yesterday, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed it as a measure to protect people from the disease.
Peters said New Zealanders ignoring the “do not travel” message were “selfish”.
“They imperil the population back here if they go overseas and come back.
“Why add to our problems? We have huge civil difficulties that we can succeed on, but we’ve got to be smart and very conscious of our collective responsibilities towards each other.”
Yesterday Peters told the 80,000 New Zealanders abroad to “come home now”.
He reiterated that again today.
“Borders are closing. If you choose to remain overseas despite our advice, the ability of the New Zealand Government to provide consular assistance may be limited due to internal travel restrictions and the suspension of services.”
He said Kiwis caught overseas at the moment deserved sympathy.
“What I’d say to a lot of New Zealanders that are saying, ‘Look, we don’t want those 80,000 back’, put yourself in their shoes. They’re New Zealanders, fellow countrymen and women, members of your family, and we’ve got to think bigger than that.”
Meanwhile Ardern has quashed speculation on social media that the Government is about to announced a nationwide lockdown.
“When you see those messages, remember that unless you hear it from us, it is not the truth,” Ardern said today.
But Peters said a lockdown was something that the Government had to consider, especially if widespread community transmission of Covid-19 became a reality.
In the House today, Peters was asked if the Government had received advice about closing the borders to all non-residents.
“The answer to the member’s question will be, in my view, one that we will be imminently looking at and will be able to give you an answer – not now, but very very soon.”
Peters was answering questions in the House on behalf of Ardern, who was in Rotorua.