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New Zealand halts flights from NSW after sharp rise in coronavirus cases

Thousands of Kiwis stranded in NSW due to the latest COVID-19 outbreak will not be able to come home as planned.

On Friday, just hours before the mercy flights were due to begin, the New Zealand government cancelled them, citing a heightened risk of transmission across the Tasman.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced 44 new cases on Friday, and a doubling of close contacts to 14,000.

COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said non-compliance with lockdown rules, as noted by Ms Berejiklian, adds extra risk for New Zealand. 

“We’ve been following the situation in New South Wales very closely,” he said.

“If the lockdown isn’t working and the people haven’t been following the rules … then that does add additional risk for us here in New Zealand.

“We’ve made the decision today to hold off on the return flights that were due to start from 11:59pm tonight.”

Jacinda Ardern’s government announced its proposal to allow citizens and family members to fly home from Saturday earlier in the week.

The move was a similar rescue mission offered to Kiwis in Victoria last month after a similar outbreak.

Instead, Kiwis in NSW will now have the option of waiting out the outbreak, or coming home – and completing a fortnight in a quarantine hotel.

“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 back to New Zealand can do so,” Mr Hipkins said.

The government will waive quarantine fees for those Kiwis who chose to come home.

NSW tightens restrictions after 44 new local cases

Kiwis stuck in Queensland will be able to access the ‘green flights’ home, as planned from Saturday. 

Mr Hipkins also said the sunshine state may be welcomed fully back into the bubble next week.

“Early next week we should be able to make a decision about resuming green flights from Queensland. The risk does seem to be quite well contained,” he said.

Four jurisdictions – Victoria, Tasmania, SA and ACT – currently have quarantine-free flights into New Zealand as part of the trans-Tasman bubble.

From Saturday, WA and NT will also be welcomed back into the free travel arrangement.

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