9 Apr 2020

Military may help escort returned citizens to holding centres - Winston Peters

8:24 am on 9 April 2020

Police and military guards could be used to monitor people returning from overseas under new rules to be announced today.

Winston Peters announcing the $12.1 billion economic relief package.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says travellers would be met at the airport and taken straight to a quarantine facility. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is today announcing compulsory quarantine for every person arriving in New Zealand.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters told Morning Report travellers would be met at the airport and taken straight to a quarantine facility.

Peters says the police and military could also be used to give other New Zealanders confidence in the system.

"We're going to put in the resources so we get the New Zealand people confidence that the people that are their relations have a right to come home, but nevertheless will not endanger New Zealand people back here," he said.

He says phone apps and other surveillance equipment were being considered to ensure people stayed where they were supposed to be.

Peters said the pattern of arrival of people struggling to get flights home meant their return would be over a long period, and was confident authorities had the resources to implement the plan.

Christchurch and Auckland are expected to be the two main centres where holding facilities are based.

"It was be focused on a couple of centres. We cannot afford the transportation where people are capable of going from outside a managed bubble to an outside one where they bring high-risk to New Zealand citizens," Peters said.

"It will only be for 14 days and it's not too much to ask."

Academics and opposition MPs have been demanding action, saying tougher border controls are necessary to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Ardern has been considering fresh advice on border controls this week, but has already been clear these will get tougher.

Ardern is due to announce that every person arriving in the country will have to go into quarantine in supervised facilities.

Foreign arrivals are already barred, meaning those quarantined will be residents and citizens returning from abroad.

The new approach will be based on how the Whangaparāoa military base was used to house early returnees from Wuhan in China, where the outbreak began.

"We will be using everything to ensure the policy is enforced," Peters said.

While the opposition says the government should have acted sooner, public health expert Professor Michael Baker, who sits on a committee of experts advising the government, says now is a good time to introduce a mandatory quarantine.

Baker is not critical of the time taken to arrive at this decision as the government needed to ensure the quarantine would be watertight.