20 Apr 2020

Dissent within New Caledonia government over repatriation flights

3:10 pm on 20 April 2020

New Caledonia's president Thierry Santa says he is very surprised that a minister has come out against the repatriation programme for residents stranded overseas because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The president of New Caledonia, Thierry Santa.

The president of New Caledonia, Thierry Santa. Photo: RNZ / Jamie Tahana

Yesterday, Philippe Germain issued a statement in defiance of the government position, saying returning travellers again risk exposing New Caledonians to the virus.

Mr Germain is a former president and now a minister in the collegial government representing the Caledonia Together party.

Mr Santa said for four weeks there have been daily meetings and it was decided to have this repatriation schedule based on fundamental Christian and Pacific values of solidarity.

A repatriation schedule was drawn up at the end of March after an outcry by hundreds of residents stuck across the globe who could no longer get scheduled flights to Noumea.

New Caledonia had earlier ordered a closure of the border as it lacked sufficient quarantine capabilities.

It then flew out tourists to Australia and Japan, with the planes returning empty.

The programme provides for those stuck in France to come back but Mr Germain wants the flights to be suspended to avoid a pandemic.

Being interviewed on local teleision, Mr Santa said there has been talk of extending quarantine for returnees from two to three weeks.

The President of New Caledonia, Philippe Germain.

Phillipe Germain is a former president and now minister in the collegial New Caledonian government. Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

Last week, the president of the Northern Province Paul Neaoutyine said he was surprised to see a significant number of stranded New Caledonian residents would be flown from Paris to Noumea while the virus kept spreading in France.

To date 18 people in New Caledonia have been identified as carriers and all are people returning from abroad.

From today, most restrictions are being eased, with schools planning to open within days.