Government U-turns on Air New Zealand flight

New Zealand citizens left Samoa on an Air New Zealand flight on Friday, less than 24 hours after the Government denied Samoa would be allowing outbound passengers as part of its coronavirus clampdown. 

It is not known how many citizens were onboard ANZ993 which departed for Auckland shortly before 3pm on Friday afternoon.

But they did so despite a Government spokesman flatly contradicting assurances from the airline that it had been given permission to fly passengers to Auckland, following the arrival of a cargo plane. 

"All international flights in and out of Samoa are cancelled until further notice, according to the latest [State of Emergency] amendment approved by Cabinet,” the Government Press Secretariat told the Samoa Observer late on Thursday night. 

“The suspension of all flights to and from Samoa reaffirms the Government’s position to protect the country from the virus by not taking any unnecessary risks.

"There are no planned outgoing flights as of today unless you have information that there are outgoing flights anytime soon.”

That information was provided to the Samoa Observer despite Air New Zealand earlier saying it had approval to fly eligible customers to Auckland on its weekly Friday flights to Apia.

But soon after the plane’s departure the Government spokesman quickly changed his tune.

“Passengers on the Air N.Z. flight were approved by Cabinet under special circumstances,” the spokesman said. 

“The passengers are returning NZ citizens.”

The airline’s country manager, Karen Gatt, had said: “Air New Zealand has received permission from the Samoan Government for the continuation of inbound cargo flights every Friday and the transport of eligible passengers and outbound cargo on the return sector – from Samoa to Auckland”.

After dedicated repatriation flights to New Zealand ceased earlier this year, Air New Zealand has been able to operate a return flight service on a weekly basis.

Though unable to provide exact figures, Ms. Gatt said those flights have had bookings on them each week. 

This week, Cabinet cancelled a repatriation flight scheduled for Friday 28 August in the wake of Auckland’s new cluster of COVID-19 cases.

It has yet to confirm whether Samoa will have the next scheduled flight on Friday 18 September go ahead or not. 

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

As of Friday, New Zealand has a total of 131 active coronavirus cases.

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