The government will allow foreign nationals to travel domestically to get to international airports so that they can fly home.
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has announced details of a plan to enable a safe, orderly exit of the tens of thousands of people stranded in New Zealand.
He said it was clear that many foreign nationals travelling here "do not have the resources or capability to adequately self-isolate" and wanted to get home.
"We have taken the time and care to develop a seriously detailed plan for the exit of foreign nationals, without endangering the lives of others," Peters said.
Under the managed exit plan:
Foreign nationals returning home will be considered to be engaging in "essential travel", and therefore able to travel domestically (whether by air or land) when they have a confirmed and scheduled international flight out of New Zealand, subject to requirements which will be set out on the [www.covid19.govt.nz Covid-19 site].
Foreign governments will be allowed to organise charter flights to repatriate their citizens, but only if they can satisfy New Zealand health requirements
Commercial capacity between New Zealand and Europe will be increased, by New Zealand approving a second daily flight between Doha and Auckland by Qatar Airways
It is expected that the first foreign government-organised charter flight, operated by Air New Zealand, could leave New Zealand as early as Friday evening.
Peters said returning foreign nationals would reduce the potential pressure on health services and reduce the risk of welfare problems for people who could not afford to be here much longer.
He emphasised that travel restrictions associated with Alert Level 4 would continue to apply for all foreign nationals, except for those travelling to leave the country, and that domestic travel by New Zealanders would continue to be reserved for essential workers only.
"New Zealanders returning home from overseas will continue to be subject to strict screening and self-isolation requirements; and domestic travel by New Zealanders will continue to be reserved for essential workers only.
"Given that Air New Zealand intends to fly charter flights from New Zealand to Europe for European governments, we will explore the extent to which New Zealanders can return in the planes on the way back," Peters said.
Foreign nationals will not be allowed to leave isolation to travel if they have been diagnosed with Covid-19, have symptoms, are awaiting the results of a test, are a close contact of a suspected, probable, or confirmed case, or if they have travelled internationally in past 14 days.
All passengers will also be required to complete any health requirements as necessary at their airport departure.
Speaking at Thursday's 3pm media briefing, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said foreign nationals would have time to make a plan to allow them to return home.
"I want to assure foreign nationals that they will have the time to make a plan, make a safe plan for themselves to utilise those commercial options," Ardern said.
Ardern said commercial flights were still available, and there was no time limit to the managed exit plan.
It was expected the first foreign government-organised charter flight, operated by Air New Zealand, could leave as early as Friday evening.