The New Zealand government is to follow the US, Australia and Japan in restricting entry into the country from foreign nationals arriving from or transiting through mainland China, disrupting travel for potentially thousands of international students due to begin the academic year in New Zealand.
The measures are intended to help protect against the spread of the fast-moving coronavirus to New Zealand, although the World Health Organisation has advised against such measures.
The WHO is concerned that travel restrictions will hamper international information exchange and cause economic harm while encouraging illegal border crossings – the latter issue being unlikely to affect New Zealand, Australia or Japan as none have land borders.
There are no new suspected cases of coronavirus in New Zealand, director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield told media at the Ministry of Health headquarters this afternoon
Health Minister David Clark directed questions on the numbers of international students affected to Education Minister Chris Hipkins.
Almost 111,000 fee-paying international students were enrolled to study in New Zealand in 2018, of whom 36,000 were Chinese citizens. With the academic year about to start, international students arrivals are currently at their peak.
Chinese tourism operators have already cancelled outbound tours, affecting tourism operators globally, including New Zealand.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Cabinet was “acutely aware of the economic impact of the virus, including on tourism, the primary sector and education.”
“I have asked ministers to make contact with industry leaders to mitigate some of these impacts as much as possible.”
The temporary entry restrictions relate to “all foreign nationals travelling from, or transiting through mainland China to assist with the containment of the novel coronavirus and to protect New Zealand and the Pacific Islands from the disease.”
The travel ban will take effect from tomorrow and will be in place for up to 14 days, with the position reviewed every 48 hours, and will affect any foreign traveller who leaves or transits through mainland China after today.
“Any foreign travellers in transit to New Zealand on Feb. 2 will be subject to enhanced screening on arrival but, pending clearance, will be granted entry to New Zealand,” Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a joint statement with Prime Minister Ardern.
“New Zealand citizens and permanent residents returning to New Zealand will still be able to enter, as will their immediate family members, but will be required to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival back in the country.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also raised its travel advice to New Zealanders for all of mainland China to ‘Do not travel’, the highest level.
National carrier Air New Zealand brought forward a planned suspension of its direct Auckland-Shanghai service, effective immediately and running until March 29. That reflected “increased border restrictions, which pose significant operational and crew logistics challenges,” it said.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Clark confirmed that the government is getting close to finalising arrangements for repatriating New Zealand citizens trapped at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in the Hubei province city of Wuhan.
The flight will bring New Zealanders home to a “military facility at Whangaparaoa”, north of Auckland, where they will be isolated for 14 days.
Foreign Minister Peters said the travel ban was a “public health decision” and that “the outbreak has been well managed by China.”
“These temporary measures are to reinforce work being done to try and reduce human to human transmission.”