NZ COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says Kiwis are at a greater risk from COVID-19 if they allow travel from NSW after Premier Gladys Berejiklian flagged Sydneysiders have not been complying with lockdown restrictions amid a flurry of new cases.
New Zealand has further extended its suspension on quarantine-free travel with New South Wales just hours before the pause was supposed to be lifted.
The travel pause with NSW came into effect on June 23 – for an initial 72 hours – and was slated to be lifted at 11:59pm on Friday.
The decision comes as Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced tighter restrictions for Greater Sydney residents after 44 new local COVID-19 cases were recorded in the past 24 hours.
NZ COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed the move was prompted by “escalating restrictions in NSW and also growing concern about the increased number of cases there”.
He said NZ authorities were working to clear 1000 rooms in Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities to resume green flights for returning travellers stuck in NSW.
They will have to undergo 14 days of mandatory isolation upon entering the country.
The NZ government is working with airlines to prioritise returning travellers with the greatest need, with estimates between 2,000 and 2,500 people are currently stranded in NSW.
“So 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 home to New Zealand can do so,” Mr Hipkins said.
“Clearly there is an escalating risk in NSW and no one wants to see COVID-19 coming into New Zealand which is why we’ve made this difficult decision.”
Grilled on the last-minute decision by reporters, Mr Hipkins said NZ authorities began discussions on extending the pause on Thursday after Ms Berejiklian raised concerns about the lack of compliance among Sydneysiders.
“So if the lockdown isn’t working and people aren’t following the rules … then that does add additional risk for us here in New Zealand,” he said.
Probed on the decision to introduce tougher restrictions on Sydneysiders, Mr Hipkins added he would not offer any commentary on decisions made by another government.
“Within Australia each state government makes their own decision and there’s different approaches within them, so I’m not going to provide a commentary on that,” he said.
“We look at things from a New Zealand perspective about how we manage risks here, it’s clear now that NSW at the moment, particularly Sydney, is a red zone in terms of the risk associated with it.”
NZ announced on June 26 it would suspend its travel bubble with all Australian states and territories for three days following multiple coronavirus outbreaks across Australia.
Quarantine-free travel still remains off-limits for Queenslanders and the Northern Territory.
The travel bubble arrangement resumed with Victoria, ACT, South Australia and Tasmania earlier this week.