7 Apr 2020

Govt working on repatriation flights for NZers in Vanuatu

8:50 am on 7 April 2020

The government is working on a way to get 79 New Zealanders home from Vanuatu which was hit by Tropical Cyclone Harold.

Winston Peters announcing the $12.1 billion economic relief package.

Winston Peters (file photo) Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Winds reaching up to 235 km/h and gusts at times up to 300 km/h battered the islands yesterday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters told Morning Report inbound flights had stopped as a result of Covid-19 measures.

But he said the government was working with the Australians and the French to see whether a commercial or military flight could be used to get foreigners out of the Pacific nation, citizens home and deliver any aid needed.

"These are early days because the airports are closed.

"We may be sending a commercial flight, a military flight, we're not certain of that but we are this close to the event trying to organise with the Vanuatuan government what can be done first of all on the ground and then by way of repatriation."

At this point there were no known Covid-19 cases in Vanuatu but New Zealand would have to act carefully and observe all the precautions as if there were cases there.

New Zealand business and government advisor Glen Craig is based in Port Vila and told Morning Report Cyclone Harold had devastated the country.

The capital itself was away from the worse of the storm, but the cyclone cut a swathe through housing, crops and trees elsewhere.

Craig said coronavirus would make evacuation and medical support from overseas harder to come by.