The New Zealand government on Tuesday asked its national airline not to take new bookings for three weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic, reported Reuters. The country, which had declared itself Covid-free in early June, is now attempting to limit the number of citizens returning home to reduce the burden on quarantine facilities.

New Zealand’s border is closed to everyone except returning citizens, though some exceptions have been made for business and compassionate reasons. Everyone has to go into mandatory quarantine for 14 days. The government bears the cost of the quarantine facilities estimated to be around $NZ300m (approximately Rs 150 billion) this year, according to The Guardian.

Housing Minister Megan Woods said bookings on Air New Zealand flights will be managed to put citizens into managed isolation facilities. “We are seeing rapid growth in the numbers of New Zealanders coming home as the Covid-19 pandemic worsens,” she added. “The last thing we need are hastily set up facilities to meet demand.”

Those who have already booked flights with Air New Zealand will be able to enter the country depending on the availability of quarantine space, Woods said.

The country has nearly 6,000 people in 28 managed isolation facilities. All the 22 active coronavirus cases are from people who have returned from other places. It has recorded 22 deaths and total 1,186 cases during the pandemic.

Air New Zealand said new bookings for the next three weeks have been put on hold. The airline added that it would align daily arrivals with the available capacity at isolation facilities.

US toll crosses 1.3 lakh; Melbourne in six-week lockdown

The toll in the United States crossed 1.3 lakh on Tuesday after the country reported 357 new fatalities in the last 24 hours. The toll is about twice that of Brazil, which has the second-highest deaths.

Among all the states in the US, New York has the highest toll with more than 32,000 fatalities.

The country also has the highest number of confirmed cases in the world. As of Tuesday afternoon, it has 29,38,624 infections, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, Australian Premier Daniel Andrews said Melbourne and a shire in Victoria will re-enter lockdown for six weeks from Thursday, reported BBC. Melbourne, the country’s second largest city, recorded 191 new infections on Tuesday – the biggest daily rise till date.

Jair Bolsonaro’s test results likely today

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has given his samples for a Covid-19 test, reported Reuters. The result is expected on Tuesday. This is the fourth test the president has taken after he complained of having high fever. Bolsonaro, however, said his lungs “were fine”.

On Sunday, the country’s foreign affairs minister posted a picture of himself, Bolsonaro and others celebrating US Independence Day at the embassy, without masks.

Brazil has the second highest number of cases and deaths in the world. However, Bolsonaro has compared the virus to “a little flu”. He has also been criticised for his administration’s repeated practice of playing down the danger of the virus. In April, Bolsonaro had sacked Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, as infighting within the government over the handling of the coronavirus crisis continued.