Thousands of Kiwis stranded in NSW due to the latest COVID-19 outbreak will not be able to come home as planned.
On Friday, just hours before the mercy flights were due to begin, the New Zealand government canned them, citing a heightened risk of transmission across the Tasman.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced 44 new cases on Friday, and a doubling of close contacts to 14,000.
New Zealand’s COVID-19 Minister, Chris Hipkins, said non-compliance with lockdown rules, as noted by Ms Berejiklian, remained an issue in the expanding Sydney outbreaks.
“We’ve been following the situation in NSW very closely,” he said.
“If the lockdown isn’t working and the people haven’t been following the rules … then that does add additional risk for us here in New Zealand.”
“We’ve made the decision today to hold off on the return flights that were due to start from 11:59pm tonight.”
Jacinda Ardern’s government announced its proposal to allow citizens and family members to fly home from Saturday earlier in the week.
The move was a similar rescue mission offered to Kiwis in Victoria in June after the outbreak there.
Kiwis in NSW will now have the option of waiting out the outbreak, or heading home – and completing a fortnight in a quarantine hotel.
“We will be saying to people who don’t have an urgent need to return home please hold back, so that those who do urgently need to return back to New Zealand can do so,” Mr Hipkins said.
The government will waive quarantine fees for those Kiwis who choose to come home.
However, Kiwis stuck in Queensland will be able to access the ‘green flights’ home as planned, from Saturday. The sunshine state had no new local COVID cases on Friday, its first “doughnut day” since the recent outbreaks across the state’s south-east
Mr Hipkins also said Queensland might be welcomed fully back into the trans-Tasman bubble next week.
“Early next week we should be able to make a decision about resuming green flights from Queensland. The risk does seem to be quite well contained,” he said.
Four Australian jurisdictions – Victoria, Tasmania, SA and ACT – currently have quarantine-free flights into New Zealand as part of the trans-Tasman bubble.
From Saturday, Western Australia and the Northern Territory will also return to the free travel arrangement.