Covid-19: Military personnel told they can't return home during alert level 4

Covid-19 vaccines are delivered by Royal New Zealand Navy personnel to remote atolls in Tokelau. (First published in July December)

Kiwi military personnel deployed away from home as part of the Covid-19 response have been banned from travelling back home during lockdown.

The bad news for out-of-town troops deployed to managed isolation hotels as part of Operation Protection, Defence Force’s contribution to the Covid response, came in a message to personnel from Colonel Stefan Michie, 1 (NZ) Brigade Commander.

“This week NZDF [Defence Force] made the difficult decision to temporarily restrict travel between different parts of New Zealand for our people who are currently deployed on Operation Protect,” the message said.

MIQ staff arrive at the Novotel Ellerslie in Auckland which opened as a quarantine facility taking Covid patients on Friday.
MIQ staff arrive at the Novotel Ellerslie in Auckland which opened as a quarantine facility taking Covid patients on Friday.

“This step was taken in light of continued uncertainty about the current scale of the delta variant outbreak across the country and the need for full assurance that the movement of our personnel did not bring with it the risk of further spread of the virus.

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“The delta variant of Covid-19 is much more transmissible and a review of protocols was necessary to reduce transmission risk. With so many locations of interest across the country and in Auckland in particular.”

The Defence Force is planning to develop “mitigation measures” to reduce the risk of transmission and allow travel to resume as soon as possible, Michie said.

The next major rotation of security personnel is still planned to go ahead in the first weeks of September, he said.

The senior officer acknowledged the restriction on travel would be hard for troops and their families.

“I understand that this decision will have a range of adverse impacts on our personnel and their families. For those deployed who are aware of issues at home – please stay in close contact with your chain of command so we can deal with matters as proactively as possible.

“I also strongly encourage families to engage with unit points of contact and with your Defence Community Facilitator so that we can assist wherever possible. Please also reach out to one another to offer support if you can.”

Michie said a recent order had increased financial support for those serving away from home as part of Operation Protect.

A soldier outside the Novotel Ellerslie on Friday.
A soldier outside the Novotel Ellerslie on Friday.

The order established a higher allowance for personnel unable to return home during periods of stand down, respite or temporary leave.

Stuff has sought comment from the Defence Force about the travel ban.

There are 962 personnel deployed to support the Covid response, according to Defence figures.

Of those, 600 serve as security at managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities, 342 are in other roles at the facilities, 19 are at headquarters supporting MIQ operations, while one is involved in Covid vaccination planning.

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