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Coronavirus: Health officials ramp up presence at airports as self-isolation begins

Mar 16, 2020

From today every traveller who lands in New Zealand is being met by a health official at the airport with instructions on how to manage two weeks in isolation.

Customs has also closed its e-gates and every passenger must have their passport checked by a Customs officer.

The tougher travel restrictions came into effect at 1am today in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Travellers who want to avoid self-isolating for two weeks have been in a race against time since Saturday afternoon.

For those arriving this morning, that race has been lost.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said every person will be met by someone who will tell them what they must do once they leave the airport.

"So what we're going to do is increase the number of staff at airports so that there is an interaction with every person coming to make sure they're aware of what the obligation is."

He said officials were working on protocols for people coming from, and transiting to, the Pacific.

Anyone feeling unwell should avoid taking a domestic connection, he said.

Officials were looking at options for travellers who arrive in the country with nowhere to stay in isolation. But he said ultimately, the onus was on the travellers to make their own arrangements.

Passengers on Air New Zealand planes will hear onboard announcements that detail what passengers will need to do once they land.

Customer care manager Doug Grant said videos won't be playing, but information will be flowing.

"There are certainly written messages and announcements made both in airport lounges and on board the aircraft."

Some larger aircraft were wi-fi enabled, so passengers would be able to keep up to date with news and advice.

RNZ reporter Max Towle arrived at Auckland Airport at 5am aboard an Air New Zealand direct flight from Vancouver and said the process was surprisingly straightforward.

"I was very surprised by how straightforward it was" - RNZ reporter Max Towle duration 4′ :21″ from Morning Report Add to playlistPlaylist Download as Ogg Download as MP3 Play Ogg in browser Play MP3 in browser

As soon as we hopped off the flight we got into this 30 minute queue to see Ministry of Health officials. We were handed a one page fact sheet about self isolation and what it entailed and we were also handed a card to fill out.

We got to this little table where three Ministry of Health officials were seated and we handed in our card - not a word was said - and we went on our way.

Towle was surprised there wasn't more information given, such as on how self-isolation would be policed.

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

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

Eight positive Covid-19 cases confirmed in NZ Coronavirus: Answers to the top five questions Sixth case of Covid-19 coronavirus in New Zealand confirmed Self isolation - your questions answered Aviation redundancies feared

Members of the Airline Pilots Association are already raising concerns about redundancies, as it remains unclear when normal life might resume.

Its president, Captain Andrew Ridling, an Air New Zealand pilot, said none have been signalled yet, but it's "not a long bow to draw".

He said the main questions he was getting were about possible job losses.

"A lot of these airlines are going to be putting a lot of aeroplanes on the ground. There are no passengers for us to take, so that has obviously got to be the first question."

For those in the aviation industry, the stringent new restrictions came as a surprise.

Ridling said he found out about the game-changing restrictions 10 minutes before the prime minister announced them.

"I don't know whether there could have been more notice, it would have been nice, but we are where we are."

The prime minister has said the rules will be reviewed at the end of March.

Ridling said it was too hard to predict how badly the restrictions will hurt jobs while uncertainty remained over how long they will last.

"If we don't get a handle on this virus, will that extension go to 20, 30, 40, 60 days? Nobody really understands the end game yet because I don't think we've had enough time to get our head around it."

With many fewer passengers in prospect, pilots are worrying about their jobs. Photo: 123RF

Emotional cancellations

Would-be travellers have been struggling to come to terms with cancelling plans or postponing trips of a lifetime.

Travel companies have been working around the clock dealing with customers trying to change their travel plans to minimise the impact of the new restrictions.

David Coombes, the managing director of Flight Centre, said there were lines out the door of some outlets over the weekend.

"Kiwis love to travel. There are a lot of people who are emotional about it.

"As these relief packages are being nutted out it's really important that we understand that in the entire travel ecosystem there's people who are concerned about how things are going to go over the coming days, weeks and months."

Airlines are urging people who need to change or cancel flights to hold off doing so unless they are booked to travel in the next 48 hours.

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