There is concern about the availability of hotel quarantine places.
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New Zealand has joined the Australian state of New South Wales in limiting the number of international passengers arriving at its airports.
The move is due to concern about the availability of hotel quarantine places, as more New Zealanders and Australians return home amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Both countries are only open to citizens, residents and their families, and all arrivals must spend 14 days in isolation or quarantine – depending on whether or not they have COVID-19 symptoms – at a government-chosen hotel.
Sydney Airport in Australia said late last week that it was limiting the number of arriving passengers to 450 per day.
That move came amid growing pressure on quarantine facilities, made worse by Melbourne’s temporary ban on international arrivals as it struggles to contain a resurgence of the virus there.
On Tuesday, New Zealand’s government said it had asked Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines to “manage” international bookings for the next three weeks to make sure quarantine facilities were not overwhelmed.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “We have people showing up at airports, and by the time they close the doors that’s when we’ll get a heads-up that we have an extra 100 people coming than we had planned for.”
Air New Zealand said it was not allowing any new bookings for the three-week period and that flights already booked could be subject to change.
Singapore Airlines spokesman Karl Schubert said they were monitoring passenger numbers and would make adjustments “to ensure we do not contribute to an overwhelming of facilities”.
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According to the Board of Airline Representatives NZ, the country sees 40 international flights per week – three-quarters of them by Air New Zealand – a big drop from more than 800 per week before the coronavirus.
New Zealand closed its borders to tourists and brought in a strict quarantine system early in the pandemic and that system is one of the main reasons for its relative success: the country has seen just 22 deaths and around 1,500 cases of the disease.
For many days the country was COVID-free but cases have started to emerge among international arrivals – 62 cases have been discovered at the border and the 22 that remain active are the only cases in the country. There is no community transmission.
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But that success – as well as many New Zealanders overseas suffering job losses due to the pandemic – has seen a surge in the number of citizens wanting to return home.
New Zealand’s health minister, Chris Hipkins, said on Tuesday that there were 6,378 beds in the country’s 28 facilities and 5,787 were occupied. Another 750 places will be added in the coming weeks.
The taxpayer-funded quarantine system is also expensive – it is estimated at around $3,800 (£1,985) per person, and the government had said it expected the cost to reach $81m (£42m) by the end of June.
There have been calls to make New Zealanders pay for their quarantine costs and some have even called for them to be prevented from returning home completely, although the latter is an idea the government has repeatedly refused.