22 Jun 2020

Covid-19: Special exemptions requests to enter NZ on the rise

5:18 am on 22 June 2020

The number of people wanting to travel to New Zealand under special exemptions is on the rise, but there's no vacancy at isolation hotels in Auckland.


Photo: Supplied

Thousands of people are being managed at 20 hotels across the country and almost 900 more are expected to arrive in the coming days.

According to officials, the number of daily arrivals has doubled in the past month, and the flurry has them searching for accommodation away from major centres.

Housing Minister Megan Woods was last week pulled in to take charge of facilities where people are isolated, after a string of botch-ups.

With quarantine hotels in Auckland at full capacity, Woods said the government was speaking to airlines about the number of flights to New Zealand and where they land, to manage the rush of people coming home.

"Returning New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, they do have a right to re-enter New Zealand, but we are looking at a range of measures we might be able to do to manage the flow so that we can do that with our daily ins and outs, so we know when capacity comes on board," Woods said.

While the border is closed to non-New Zealanders, there are special exemptions.

People can apply to travel here on humanitarian grounds or if they are the partner or child of a New Zealand citizen or resident. Employers can apply to bring in critical workers.

No caption

Air Commodore Digby Webb and Housing Minister Megan Woods Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Air Commodore Digby Webb said the number of these applications was on the rise as well.

"We are seeing a slight increase in new border exemption restriction requests and those two things will be managed very carefully, hand in hand.

"As the minister said, it's the right for every New Zealander to come home and so that's part of the overall system end-to-end," Webb said.

Woods said she would be ensuring the number of special exemptions did not put unwanted pressure on the border.

"One of the things the prime minister has asked me to do is to work with all of my colleagues who are looking at what we might want to do in the future, in terms of bringing more people across the border, to make sure that we're matching this very carefully with the capacity at the border."

National Party health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse agreed some special exemptions needed to be approved.

"There are essential workers, people with special skills that we're going to need. The government does need to let some people in from time to time and they are going to need to ensure they are isolated for the appropriate period.

"That's okay as long as they've got a plan - and it doesn't appear as though they have," Woodhouse said.

The last minute move to accommodate travellers at two Rotorua hotels at the weekend was proof the government had no clear plan, he said.

Officials knew managed isolation facilities in Auckland were going to reach capacity, and should have had more beds in the city ready, Woodhouse added.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs