Auckland Airport’s outgoing chief executive Adrian Littlewood has called on the New Zealand government to ease quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated Kiwis coming home.
Littlewood said that fully vaccinated New Zealanders still stranded overseas should be free to return for Christmas and enter home quarantine, instead of entering two-week government managed isolation (MIQ) in a hotel.
Combined with pre-departure PCR testing, Littlewood said there is “no longer any logic” to sending double-jabbed Kiwis into MIQ.
“The government has stated that vaccinations are our ticket to an unrestricted summer holiday, yet fully vaccinated and tested Kiwis remain stuck offshore, kept apart from family and friends over Christmas,” Littlewood said.
“Some of our most prominent scientific experts have come out and said this week that the risk they present is low and better use could be made of our scarce MIQ facilities.
“And we’ve also seen Air New Zealand announce new domestic safety protections this week, meaning only fully vaccinated or COVID-19-negative people will be able to fly from mid-December.
“The time has come for the grief and inequity caused by these restrictions to end, allowing Kiwis to return, reunite with their families and isolate at home if they are fully vaccinated with pre-departure testing. The government needs to make this a priority now.”
Mr Littlewood said New Zealand was lagging behind the rest of the developed world with ongoing restrictions for inbound Kiwi travellers, including Australia.
“Citizens in countries like Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom are now travelling more freely yet our country remains shut off with no certainty.
“Australians are going to be able to return home for Christmas in most states with either no isolation or home isolation. Why can’t New Zealanders do the same?”
The New Zealand government has said that it will relax border restrictions sometime in the new year, however Littlewood said that Kiwis need certainty about when this will happen.
“We understand the government does plan to relax the border restrictions in the new year. They need to provide clarity and say so officially now.
“If the government can’t make this commitment now as New Zealand approaches 90 per cent fully vaccinated, then when will this be possible?”
Littlewood explained that the airlines operating in New Zealand need to know in advance when flight schedules will come back online.
“You can’t just flick a switch and turn back on an international air network. Our airline contacts have told us that recommissioning a plane and preparing its supporting crew from hibernation could take three months.
“Airlines lock in their flight schedules a long way in advance and planning for late 2022 and early 2023 is happening now right across the industry.”
Prior to the pandemic, 29 international carriers operated regular passenger services to Auckland Airport, however this number has now dropped to 12 due to border restrictions.
“Major foreign airlines have told us they need more certainty in order to confirm the timing of their return to New Zealand,” Littlewood added.
“This could have significant implications for our trading nation and the high-value imports and exports we rely upon. It may also create the ongoing need for taxpayer-funded cargo subsidies, which ultimately won’t be enough to keep airlines flying here.
“Our vaccination rates are high, and they will continue to climb. We are urging the government to make a commitment now to when the border will open up to fully vaccinated travellers with pre-departure testing.”
Meanwhile in Australia, the government eased outbound travel restrictions on fully vaccinated Australian citizens and residents from 1 November, while NSW, Victoria and the ACT began welcoming back double-jabbed Australians from overseas without any quarantine requirements.