New Zealanders and Australians quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship may risk another two weeks stranded in Japan if they don't board an evacuation flight due to leave the country tomorrow.
Health Minister David Clark told a press conference that it is unlikely the passengers will be able to travel on commercial flights while there is still a risk of coronavirus infection.
The flight, organised by the Australian government, will leave Japan for Darwin on Wednesday evening at the earliest. The New Zealand government was considering chartering a commercial flight from Darwin to New Zealand, but when that will be hasn't been decided yet, he said.
Those of the 11 New Zealanders who do board the flight will then head to Whangaparaoa to be quarantined for a further two weeks, he said.
New Zealander Wren Manuel had initially said he and his wife would not take the Australian flight because they did not want to be quarantined again.
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But since learning they would have to be quarantined no matter where they were, they decided to take the flight to Darwin.
He was frustrated that the government had not evacuated New Zealanders earlier and lessened the time they would have to be isolated.
However, Dr Clark defended the need for further quarantining once passengers returned to New Zealand.
"Those people coming back from the cruise ship have been in a situation where the infection rate is far higher than it is in China.
"We are concerned for their well-being but also for their families and the community so we want to take a precautionary approach, as we have all along with this outbreak, we are yet to have a confirmed case of Covid-19 in New Zealand and part of the reason for that is because we are taking such a careful approach and putting public health and safety as our number one concern. The advice I have received is that we need to make sure we're taking a cautious approach here too."
Two New Zealanders are still hospitalised in Japan, and another will remain with them while they are looked after.
The group of 157 people quarantined in Whangaparaoa currently will leave the facility tomorrow if they are deemed healthy. The Ministry will provide transport assistance to those heading home whether here or abroad.
Dr Clark said the government is also keeping an eye on a separate cruise ship docked in Cambodia with one confirmed case of the virus.
Sixteen New Zealanders are on board.
Responding to questions about the Chinese Ambassador's plea to lift travel restrictions, Dr Clark said that the travel restriction decision has not been taken lightly.
"We are mindful of New Zealand's economic interests, but first and foremost we are looking out for the health of New Zealanders."
He said the government is moving in step with many other countries but is listening to scientific advice and reviewing the ban every 48 hours.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health says 4561 people who have been in, or transited through, mainland China are now registered with Healthline.
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the Ministry is attempting to contact those people who are not yet self-registered.
Those in self-isolation have been advised that they don't need to lock themselves in a room but should avoid congregating in groups.