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Covid-19: First quarantine-free Pacific Islands flight since Delta outbreak touches down


Passengers on the first quarantine-free flight from the Pacific Islands since the start of the Covid-19 Delta outbreak touched down in Auckland on Tuesday evening.

The handful of people stepping off the flight from Tonga do not have to spend 14 days at a managed isolation and quarantine facility, as part of a one-way travel bubble.

Numbers on the flight were relatively low as the quarantine-free travel only applies to those flying in to New Zealand, but those on board were happy to be here.

Liz Palanite greets her son Nathan after he arrived on a quarantine-free flight from Tonga.

DAVID WHITE/STUFF

Liz Palanite greets her son Nathan after he arrived on a quarantine-free flight from Tonga.

Liz Palanite was very excited to see her son Nathan after they had been apart for three years.

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“We are so very happy to welcome him back home safely,” Palanite said.

Flights from the Pacific Islands halted when Covid hit in early 2020, but there have been some repatriation flights both ways in the interim.

The Cook Islands briefly had a travel bubble with New Zealand until the August Delta outbreak hit.

But late last month Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced one-way QFT travel would open up with Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga and Tokelau.

Due to the low risk posed by travellers from those countries, Hipkins said passengers won’t need to provide a negative test before leaving or isolate on arrival in New Zealand.

More quarantine-free flights from Pacific islands are scheduled to touch down later this month (file photo).

Supplied

More quarantine-free flights from Pacific islands are scheduled to touch down later this month (file photo).

All those on the flights must be fully vaccinated, unless they are New Zealand citizens, and must have been in the countries they flew out of for at least 14 days before their flight.

“The Covid-19 situation continues to evolve rapidly, both here and abroad,” Hipkins said.

“We need to move quickly to make sure we’re minimising the risks we face in the best way possible. We will, as we always have, step through these changes carefully.”

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins welcomed the opening of the QFT travel bubble (file photo).

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins welcomed the opening of the QFT travel bubble (file photo).

Niue and Cook Islands borders remain closed, but both governments have resumed repatriation flights for stranded citizens in New Zealand.

Air New Zealand’s chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty said they had been looking forward to welcoming people on Tuesday’s flight.

“While only one-way quarantine free at this stage, this is another step in the right direction, and we look forward to doing more Pacific Islands travel in future,” Geraghty said.

Two flights from Samoa are scheduled to arrive on November 13 and 17, while another flight from Tonga will touch down on November 30.



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