Military flights have been deployed to repatriate seasonal workers from Vanuatu stranded in Central Otago and wider New Zealand.
The last of the flights leaves today in what has been a joint effort between New Zealand and Vanuatu to repatriate about 1000 seasonal workers stranded here.
Alexandra-based Seasonal Solutions chief executive Helen Axby said the situation evolved rapidly late last week, with eight flights split between Christchurch Airport and Whenuapai Air Force Base in Auckland starting on Friday each carrying about 130 Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) workers.
Ms Axby said 277 workers left Central Otago at the weekend, leaving only 127 employed as winter crews to continue with the winter pruning workload at a variety of orchards and vineyards.
Strode Road Orchard owner Lochie McNally said all eight of his workers left by bus for Christchurch on Saturday and had since flown out.
The repatriation flights were a relief for both the workers and employers as work for them had become ad hoc, he said.
The agreement to allow them to fly home ended weeks of uncertainty as most of the workers had been stranded for more than a month beyond their anticipated leaving date due to the Vanuatu government having imposed strict lockdown policies because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Pacific nation is one of the few in the world not to record a single case of Covid-19.
Republic of Vanuatu consul-general Mckenzie Kalotiti said yesterday it was a good outcome.
"We have one more flight from Auckland [today] ending this round of repatriations.
"It has been a huge project at very short notice and the Vanuatu Government wishes to express its sincere thanks for the support of the New Zealand Government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the New Zealand Defence Force, Horticulture New Zealand and the RSE employers, who have all greatly assisted in this huge undertaking of getting 1000 citizens from New Zealand to Vanuatu."
The Vanuatu Government would now be working with authorities in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, to plan for future repatriation opportunities, Mr Kalotiti said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said in a statement no commercial flight options were available to the Vanuatu nationals and their return was via New Zealand Defence Force flights in its biggest international airlift in 25 years.
They are required to quarantine for 14 days upon their return to Vanuatu.