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In a statement this morning, Minister Megan Woods said the Government and Air New Zealand had agreed to manage incoming bookings in the short term.
This would enable the Government to safely place New Zealanders arriving home into a managed isolation or quarantine facility, said Woods.
"Last week Air Commodore Darryn Webb and I met with Air New Zealand's Chief Executive Greg Foran to discuss safe and robust ways to jointly manage the big growth in New Zealanders coming home," Woods said.
"Air New Zealand has agreed to put a temporary hold on new bookings in the short term, as well as looking at aligning daily arrivals with the capacity available at managed isolation facilities.
"People who have already booked flights with Air New Zealand will still be able to enter New Zealand subject to availability of quarantine space."
"We are seeing rapid growth in the numbers of New Zealander coming home as the Covid-19 pandemic worsens.
"Our number one priority is stopping the virus at the border, so everyone must to go into quarantine or managed isolation. The Government is also talking to other airlines about managing flows
"The last thing we need are 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 said.
"[We] are scaling up more spaces all the time, but we need to do so safely and new facilities need to be watertight before they are opened.
"These temporary measures will ease the current demand on facilities while additional supply is brought on line. In the past three weeks we have brought on capacity of ten new facilities for 2000 more people, and have a plan to bring on another 750 places in the coming weeks.
"The pause on new bookings will be short-term, and allows us to increase supply to match forecasted demand over the coming weeks."
The Government was also talking to other airlines about managing flows, she revealed.
Woods said there had been similar moves in Australia, where passenger numbers into Sydney had been limited following the suspension of flights into Melbourne because of the surge in Covid-19 cases in Victoria. They were also having to manage the flow of people into the country to match availability of managed isolation beds.
The numbers of those arriving had continued to increase in recent weeks, with 5,697 people currently in managed isolation and quarantine.
Air NZ responds
Air New Zealand this morning confirmed it had put a hold on new bookings for international services landing in New Zealand following a request from the Government.
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.
The airline said the move was to help ensure the country was able to provide quarantine accommodation for inbound passengers for the required 14-day period.
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 and we're keen to do what we can to help New Zealand's continued success in its fight against Covid-19," he said.
The airline was contacting customers affected by these changes from today.
The airline's 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 Booking.com 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.