Chinese nationals fly out on special flight
A group of Chinese nationals have departed from Samoa on a special flight that left the country on Monday evening, Air New Zealand has confirmed.
Responding to questions from the Samoa Observer, Annabelle Cray, of Air New Zealand said the flight was scheduled to depart for Auckland at 6:05pm local time.
It was not specified how many booked a seat on the flight out of Samoa but Ms. Cray confirmed that the airline will not be carrying customers into Apia from New Zealand.
According to a Chinese Embassy spokesperson, Muyue Zhang, the flight was commercially organised with some Chinese citizens who had booked their own seats on the plane.
The flight is the first commercially-organised flight out of Samoa since borders were shut down in March.
Currently, only repatriation flights are permitted to fly Samoan nationals into the country from New Zealand.
The Government recently pushed back those repatriation flights from Auckland to be operated every three weeks despite a backlog in requests from Samoans remaining in New Zealand wanting to return.
Last week, Air New Zealand’s Lauren Bowerman confirmed that the demand for repatriation flights from Auckland to Apia remains strong despite a total of 1700 passengers being returned to Samoa on the trips since they started on May 29.
"There continues to be strong demand for our repatriation flights, and we have now returned over 1,700 stranded Samoan residents since 29 May," Ms. Bowerman wrote in an email in response to questions from this newspaper.
"We are working closely with the Samoan Government to prioritise the backlog of registered passengers and we are contacting those registered passengers directly once we are able to confirm their travel back home.
“Even after the repatriation flight in three weeks time, there will "remain a backlog of passengers”.
In total, an estimated 10 repatriation flights from Auckland have landed in Samoa so far. The next flight won't reach Apia until September.
According to the Prime Minister, the Government has spent more than $2 million on costs for isolating incoming passengers.