New Zealanders in Victoria may not immediately be rescued by the Government if the travel bubble with the Australian state is paused, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.
Eleven cases of community COVID-19 were recorded in Victoria on Wednesday, with most linked to an apartment complex in an inner-Melbourne suburb where infected workers from Sydney had been earlier in July.
With the trans-Tasman quarantine-free travel bubble currently operating between Victoria and New Zealand, officials here are keeping an eye on the developing situation.
Hipkins on Wednesday night said anyone with concerns about the potential for a pause on quarantine-free travel should organise to return to New Zealand as soon as possible. There's a large number of locations of interest, including a stadium and a number of pubs.
But he told The AM Show on Thursday morning officials don't yet have enough information on whether a pause is necessary.
"Our health teams are in regular contact with the team over there in Victoria to get the best information possible as quickly as we can," he said.
"We were getting a lot of queries last night from people in Victoria saying, should we come home. The answer we have got to that question is, we can't make that judgement for you, but if you are worried about potentially getting caught in a pause there, if we have to do a pause, then you should make plans to come home now rather than wait and see."
Otherwise, Hipkins said, people should be prepared if a pause is implemented that "you could find yourself stuck there for a while longer".
That's been the case for many Kiwis who travelled to New South Wales before New Zealand paused quarantine-free travel with that Australian state in the wake of skyrocketing cases. Earlier this week, the Government launched rescue flights for some stranded Kiwis with a two-week stay in MIQ at no added cost.
But Hipkins told The AM Show capacity constraints mean Kiwis in Victoria may not be quickly rescued if a pause is implemented on travel from there.
"The reality is we only have a limited amount of space [in MIQ]. The people in NSW, some of them will be waiting potentially several months before they have the opportunity to come back to New Zealand," the minister said.
"The capacity we have got to do that is pretty maxed out with NSW at the moment. If anything happened in any other Australian state, our ability to provide extra support there would be quite limited at this point."
When the managed return flights from NSW to New Zealand went on sale at 10am on Monday, they were gone within 15 minutes, leaving many out of luck. The airline said it will be releasing more seats on the flights if and when more spots in MIQ become available. Those still wanting to return home are advised to keep checking.
A MIQ spokesperson told Newshub earlier this week that when quarantine-free travel was announced, an additional 500 MIQ rooms were set aside for "contingency" purposes on top of the 400 already available in emergencies.
"This was to manage any potential changes to quarantine-free travel and provide additional capacity in the event that some travellers need to go into MIQ at very short notice."
Kiwis stuck in NSW may be waiting a while to get home unless they are able to secure a MIQ spot. The state extended its lockdown on Wednesday for an additional two weeks.