Repatriation flight cancelled, Cabinet deciding on future flights

The next repatriation flight from Auckland to Apia has been cancelled amidst fears around Auckland’s new coronavirus outbreak. 

Air New Zealand's Samoa Country Manager, Karen Gatt, confirmed that the upcoming flight on Friday 28 August 2020 will not be bringing passengers to Apia. They are also awaiting further instructions on the next scheduled flight for Friday 18 September.

Furthermore, registrations for future flights have been closed for the time being.

“The Samoan Government has advised Air New Zealand that the repatriation flight from Auckland to Samoa on 28 August is no longer able to operate to Samoa due to the latest outbreak of COVID-19 in New Zealand,” Ms. Gatt said.

“As a result the airline has had to cancel the passenger service to Samoa. The airline is waiting on advice from the Samoan Government on when repatriation flights are able to resume.

“Air New Zealand continues to work closely with the Samoan Government to help repatriate residents and organise the transportation of cargo between the two nations.”

Auckland, the epicentre of the new outbreak, is under relatively tight restrictions, with people asked to stay home where possible, and to wear a mask on transport. 

On Monday, New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced that Auckland will remain at Alert Level 3 until Sunday at midnight, two full days longer than initially planned for when the move back up the alert levels was announced earlier this month.

The new cluster of COVID-19 cases, which began 103 days after New Zealand had gone without any evidence of community transmission of the disease, now has 101 active cases.

Speaking to Radio New Zealand on Tuesday morning, Ms. Ardern said she expects it to take weeks for the cluster to close, and she does not anticipate having to move New Zealand to Level 4, the most restrictive level.

Auckland will eventually return to Level 2 even before the cluster has “tailed” off, she said.

“Modelling for clusters is quite hard but we've simply looked at our clusters in New Zealand in the past," she said.

“The longest tail we had off a cluster in New Zealand was roughly around the 12 or 13-week mark. This one should be a bit different obviously in the way it's being managed, there's variables in all of them but I do expect it will take us some time to see the end.”

Under Level 2, there are strategies to manage active clusters, she added.

“It's when you have cases outside of that cluster and you don't have control around that cluster that's really problematic. No-one is suggesting for a moment that we would stay in level 3 restrictions until we saw the tail end of it.”

Speaking to media on Tuesday, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi said Cabinet will be discussing whether or not to continue repatriation flights and will make an announcement in due time. 

Chair of the National Emergency Operations Committee Ulu Bismarck Crawley did not respond to requests for confirmation or further questions on the repatriation flights. 

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