20 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: Government looking into mercy flights for New Zealanders stuck overseas

9:25 am on 20 March 2020

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says he cannot give guarantees that the government will be able to bring back New Zealanders who are stuck overseas as a result of the coronavirus lockdowns.

Winston Peters announcing the $12.1 billion economic relief package.

Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Kiwis are struggling to get back into the country with the aviation industry severely reducing international flights and borders around the world closing.

The government for the first time has advised New Zealanders against travelling anywhere overseas and those currently overseas were asked to consider returning home immediately while commercial options remained.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters told Morning Report preparations were being made on how to deal with the evolving situation, and continued to advise citizens to register with Safe Travel and relevant authorities.

"The government is doing all it possibly can with the utilities we've got here and abroad, but we can't give anyone a blanket assurance of that type [that they will definitely get home].

"What we're trying to do is alert [New Zealanders] to making the plans they need to make, making it clear they can contact us ... we've been giving them information, but as many as we possibly can, where we can and with the utilities and assets we've got to do the job, we can ensure that we can maximise this effort. But I cannot and no-one can give this guarantee."

Over the past few days, the number of people registered with Safe Travel went from 17,000 to 20,000.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

Peters said the government was also working with Air New Zealand, with consideration of using the airline as one of the options for potential mercy flights.

An announcement later today could be expected on plans for Air New Zealand - which had been placed in a trading halt - he said.

However, Peters also said he was not ruling out the use of military planes for any potential mercy or evacuation flights.

"Every option we've got, we'll have in the sky. We're considering that as well, whatever we've got available - and we're working alongside other countries - we'll seek to use, because in the end we're all in this together.

"So everything is on the planning board with a totally open and liberal mind to seek to get our fellow countrymen home."

Peters also urged concerned New Zealanders at home to be more compassionate to those seeking to come back.

"I'm asking them to put themselves of the people offshore ... we're asking people to think big and compassionately about the circumstances over there that these poor people face."

For those who may face financial issues overseas, he said contingency plans with respects to helping them were being sought.

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