Long-awaited repatriation takes Tongans home from New Zealand

written by Adam Thorn | August 4, 2020
An Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 at Sydney Airport. (Seth Jaworski)
An Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 at Sydney Airport. (Seth Jaworski)

An Air New Zealand repatriation flight took Tonga citizens stranded since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic home from Auckland today.

The 787-9 Dreamliner, ZK-NZI, arrived at Fua‘amotu International Airport just before 1:30pm local time. The airline said it was the first flight it has laid on between the two countries since border restrictions were introduced.

Those on the flight were required to take a negative coronavirus test with them to check-in and will be asked to quarantine at a government facility for 14 days after they arrive.

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Air New Zealand’s Brent Roxburgh said there was a “large number” of Tongan passport holders in the country waiting to get back home.

The flight was the latest in a long-line of repatriations carried out by the airline. In July, for instance, it flew 300 of the country’s seasonal fruit pickers back to Samoa.

Each year, around 2,000 Samoan workers travel to New Zealand to pick fruit, particularly concentrated in areas such as Hawke’s Bay, Blenheim, Gisborne, Martinborough and the Bay of Plenty.

Air New Zealand collaborated with New Zealand Apples and Pears, the largest employer of seasonal workers, to organise the repatriation.

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Meanwhile, in June, the flag carrier took Fijians home – but passengers faced a gruelling month-long isolation when they arrived.

The country has one of the most stringent coronavirus restrictions in the world, with returning citizens asked to stay in a government quarantine facility for 14 days and then to complete a further 14 days in home isolation.

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