Coronavirus: Travellers arriving in Auckland from South Korea reflect on protocols

Passengers who arrived in Auckland from South Korea on Tuesday have mixed opinions about the restrictions and protocols amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

While some were accepting of the practices in place, others were not so happy with the possibility of self-quarantine.

"If I needed to self-quarantine and I was showing symptoms, then I should have to do it," one man told Newshub at Auckland International Airport. "If you're not showing symptoms you don't have to self-isolate." 

He was also given a pamphlet and believes he had his temperature taken.

"I haven't been told to self-isolate, so I will not be going to. I understand when I go back to France, the government has requested all individuals that have been [in transit] to self-quarantine for 14 days," another passenger explained.

Northern Italy and the Republic of Korea currently do not have travel restrictions in place - but according to the Ministry of Health, "we request all people travelling to New Zealand [from these territories and countries] undertake 14 days self-isolation and register with Healthline".

Yet a number of travellers, many of whom were only in South Korea for a brief transit, said they had not been requested by Customs to self-quarantine. Discrepancies between answers indicate that Customs may not have a consistent protocol for each individual passenger.

"I was just on a short transit in South Korea but they asked where I'd come from, where I'd been... they gave me a leaflet," said one woman.

"I've been given a notification that I can't go back to work for two weeks if I've been through Seoul, so I'll have to contact my work to see if they want me to self-isolate or not... I can work from home, I think it would be okay if I had to."

Another woman who transited through Seoul arrived from London's Heathrow for a four-week holiday. She said she was informed to notify airport staff if she was feeling ill.

"They didn't take my temperature and they didn't give me a pamphlet," she said.

The passenger who took the connecting flight in Seoul from France said the protocols have him "torn". He is holidaying in the country for two weeks.

"I feel like even two weeks ago when I purchased the flight, there wasn't huge concern in South Korea... on one hand, I think the measures are quite intense... there's a lot of ramifications on stopping global travel. But then I think it's important that people are able to continue to connect and live," he told Newshub.

"I think if individuals have been in direct contact or present in cities where there has been an outbreak, it's fair for those individuals to self-isolate as a precautionary measure.

"But I think if we're not being smart about the way we handle these international situations, there could be unnecessary complications as a result."

The man said his temperature was not checked, but he was given a pamphlet and was asked if he had transited through China in the last 14 days.

One man visiting from Holland also was less supportive of the measures.

"I think it's a difficult one. I can understand that New Zealand is trying to limit the entry for people who may have been exposed to the virus, but I don't think closing the borders is the solution. There's some research that shows there's not really a big correlation between spreading viruses and the restriction of borders," he suggested.

He received a pamphlet and believed he had his temperature checked, but was not told to self-isolate and will not be undergoing self-quarantine.

"We're not too worried, we were in the airport for only two hours and it was empty... we kept ourselves for ourselves. There was hardly anyone on the plane, everyone was wearing masks," said a couple who arrived from England.

Taxi drivers who deliver people to and from the airport said they have no interest in discriminating against particular ethnicities due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"There's no discrimination, any person that comes to us, we can take. No problem at all, we're not worried about where they come from," one said.

According to the Ministry of Health, the only passengers with a mandatory self-isolation period are those travelling to New Zealand from mainland China or Iran. These Category 1a countries also have temporary travel restrictions in place.

People who have travelled from Category 2 countries and territories, including broader Italy, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Thailand, should be aware of COVID-19 symptoms - but it specifically excludes airport transfers. These travellers "do not have to self-isolate if well".

Air New Zealand is suspending its services between Auckland and Seoul as a result of the fall in demand due to coronavirus. Flights stop on 8 March and will resume at the end of June.