The final countdown is all but over for Kiwis heading back from Australia, and plenty of tears, hugs and high emotion as passengers arrive 246 days after the travel bubble paused.
The first flight is expected to land at 3.15pm from Sydney, one of five that landed at the Auckland Airport today and one flight in Christchurch.
This is day one of the first stage of New Zealand’s easing of border restrictions, with fully vaccinated Kiwis from Australia allowed to return home.
Four Air New Zealand flights and one Qantas service will arrive from Melbourne, Sydney and Perth today carrying just over 900 passengers.
The first Air NZ service, also from Sydney is expected to land in Auckland at 5.15pm.
Air NZ chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty says: “Emotions will be running high today as New Zealand citizens and permanent residents who have been waiting to come home from Aussie board their flight.
“Having the certainty they will be touching down on home soil and reuniting with friends and whānau in just a few short hours will come as a relief.”
Geraghty said today marked the first step in reconnecting NZ with the world.
“We expect to have more than 300 flights available between New Zealand and Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast for the month of March alone,” Geraghty said.
“Once we have a clearer view as to the level of demand, we will adjust the schedule accordingly, but we’re confident there will be seats available.”
Passengers are required to provide evidence of a negative PCR test 48 hours before departure or a supervised RAT or LAMP test 24 hours before departure under current requirements.
Auckland Airport general manager operations Anna Cassels-Brown said today will no doubt be a day full of emotion and relief for the hundreds of passengers and those waiting to see them.
“It’s an important first step, and one that is really welcomed by Auckland Airport and Kiwis wanting to reunite with their families between Australia and New Zealand,” Cassels-Brown said.
“But with self-isolation in place, we’re expecting a much more subdued response with only those New Zealanders who really need to travel making the journey across from Australia.”
Auckland Airport expects to welcome around 6700 international arrivals throughout next week.
Compared to the 2900 who arrived from Australia in December 2021, this is a marked increase but still 10 per cent of pre-Covid trans-Tasman travel numbers.
Arrivals will receive a “Welcome Home Pack” that contains rapid antigen tests for those entering self-isolation.
They will need to self-isolate for seven days – something that opposition parties saying doesn’t make sense and calling to be scrapped.
All arrivals are issued with health information when they land, and they can isolate anywhere in the country, provided they have cell phone coverage, a landline or Wi-Fi to enable contact from the Ministry of Health.
People travelling together can isolate in the same bubble together, and they are also allowed to isolate with friends and family.
This isolation rules is posing an obstacle to Kiwis wanting to make a short visit to see family, attend a family event or just for a long weekend.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins had however said in a statement that the Government will adjust its settings when appropriate, based on expert advice and expects to be able to make an announcement soon.
Steps to reopening the border:
• Fully vaccinated New Zealanders from Australia are allowed to return home from 27 February.
• Fully vaccinated citizens from other countries including critical and skilled foreign workers allowed to return from 13 March.
• From 12 April, up to 5,000 international students will be allowed to enter the country.
• Australian citizens and all other visitors that would normally be allowed to travel visa-free to New Zealand will be able to visit the country no later than July.
• In October, New Zealand will reopen to all other visitors and students who do require a visa.
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