Air New Zealand said the first of several flights chartered by the German government to repatriate stranded Germans left Friday afternoon from Auckland bound for Frankfurt via Vancouver, Canada. The German Embassy in Wellington last week said more than 12,000 had signed up for its repatriation program.
“Listen, we get it,” said U.S. Ambassador Scott Brown in a video message. “We’ve gotten your calls, your emails, your texts. We understand. And we know that you are worried about getting home. And we’re doing our very, very, very best to help.”
American tourist Lisa Horvath told RNZ that the news she would soon be able to return home and see her dog had come as a huge relief. She said she could now enjoy her walks in New Zealand, which are allowed under the lockdown rules.
“I feel like I can enjoy those places instead of resenting being here, which is kind of the space that I was getting in emotionally,” she said. “I was so desperate to find out when I was getting home.”
New Zealand has recorded 868 cases of COVID-19 and one death from the disease. About half of the cases have been linked to overseas travelers returning home, and the country has so far avoided a major local outbreak.
New Zealand‘s lucrative tourism industry, which was the nation’s single biggest earner of foreign income, has ground to a halt due to the virus outbreak. Tourism New Zealand estimates the industry accounted for about 10% of the nation’s GDP and employed 230,000 people.