Winston Peters on EU travel: ‘We’re not going to compromise our country’s health’

Foreign Minister Winston Peters says New Zealanders who head to Europe on holiday should pay for their two weeks’ hotel quarantine when they return.

Winston Peters speaks to media on his way to the debating chamber in Parliament, Wellington.

Winston Peters: “We’re not going to compromise our country’s health.” Photo: STUFF/POOL

The EU has named 14 countries whose citizens are deemed “safe” to be let in from tomorrow.

Along with New Zealand on the current Covid-19 safe list are Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

The United States, Brazil and China are excluded, though the EU is ready to add China if its government offers a reciprocal travel deal for EU citizens.

For now New Zealand is not allowing in international visitors as it continues fixing problems with the quarantine and managed isolation facilities, and Peters said that would not change following the EU decision.

Citizens, residents and immediate families and some essential workers are allowed to enter.

“We’re not changing our settings because of admittedly a very praiseworthy statement from the EU. But we’re not going to compromise our country’s health.”

Peters said New Zealanders who went to Europe on holiday should pay for their two weeks’ hotel quarantine when they return.

“If you can afford to take a holiday, and given the state of our economy and the enormous international damage that Covid-19 has caused to every economy including our own, I don’t think it’s too much to expect you to pay for your own quarantine when you get back.”

The government was working through this, he said. “I would think this is bound to succeed in terms of a fair request”.

Yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had asked officials to look at whether anyone planning an optional overseas trip could be made to foot the bill for the two-week mandatory isolation on their return.

“It’s one case to say Kiwis coming back who have been overseas for a long period of time – it’s another to say that you’re knowingly leaving the country and then imposing that extra burden on your return.”

Peters said those who went to Europe would have been in highly-affected Covid-19 countries, and New Zealand’s safety was paramount.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said there would be little change in travel in either direction.

“In terms of of people coming into New Zealand I don’t think it changes anything. There’s no change of our rules here so for now, there’s no prospect of holidaymakers coming in from Europe.

“We do have to keep that under review, there are pockets across the world that are doing very well in controlling Covid.

“Some time down the track there could be countries … we could open up to.”

As for people from New Zealand going to Europe, Roberts expected there would be “relatively few”.

“Perhaps if someone wants to go back to family or visit family for an extended period and then they might be prepared to pay for two weeks’ isolation when they get back, or take the risk that in six months the situation will have changed.”

“I think it will be a very brave tourist who wants to head off for a four or five-week trip around Europe given the amount of Covid that’s still prevalent there and then come into two weeks’ isolation on return.”

The government has ruled out international students returning in July and August in time for the next semester but will be announcing a recovery plan next month for the $5 billion industry.

Business New Zealand says the government has failed to hold up its end of the lockdown deal, and the country is missing out on billions of dollars from international students alone while the border remains closed.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to advise against all international travel despite the EU’s decision.

That advice has been in place since March.

In a statement today the ministry said there was no change to its travel advisory, which is that all New Zealanders do not travel overseas.

RNZ / additional reporting by BBC

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