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Interislander Ferries vital for essential workers

The Interislander ferries continue to play a crucial role in New Zealand's response to COVID-19, moving hundreds of essential workers between the North and South Islands in the past fortnight, KiwiRail Group chief executive Greg Miller says.

Around 650 essential transport, medical and export industry workers have travelled on the Interislander since March 30.

Many of the essential workers travelling are truck drivers moving freight between the two islands, along with doctors, nurses and other medical staff, some relocating to take up short-term positions in hospitals, and primary industry workers.

"Our ferries are helping make sure that as a nation we can manage the COVID-19 pandemic, that New Zealanders can get food and other essential goods and that medical staff can get to where they are needed," Greg says.

"We're also supporting our primary industries by moving seafood harvesters and fruit pickers between the islands. Ensuring our primary exporters can continue to get the staff they need on our ferries and their goods to ports around the country on KiwiRail's trains is vital for keeping New Zealand's economy going in these unprecedented times and will help the economic recovery in the weeks and months ahead.

"COVID-19 has highlighted how the Interislander ferries are a vital transport link between the islands and we are committed to playing our part during, and as we emerge from, the pandemic."

On Thursday, 45 fruit pickers from Thornhill, a horticulture and viticulture labour supply business, are sailing on the Kaiarahi ferry from Wellington to Picton. The experienced pickers have been working in the Hawke's Bay harvesting squash destined for overseas markets.

Thornhill managing director Richard Bibby says the group of pickers are making their seasonal trip to prune grapes for the winter in Marlborough.

"For the past 10 years we've been sending this same group of pickers down to Marlborough to work on the Marlborough grape vines. The entire group is together, working and travelling in an isolation bubble in order to meet the strict health and safety protocols in place to prevent any COVID-19 transmission," says Richard.

"These workers play a really important role in the supply of grapes for New Zealand's wine production, which sells to a global market."

Interislander has strict physical distancing rules and additional hygiene measures are in place.

"Staff on board the ships are respecting everyone's isolation bubbles, and like Thornhill's workers, our staff have stepped up to the challenge. I am proud of our ships' crews and the work they're doing on the front line to stop the spread of this virus," says Greg..

"We've introduced a booking and identifications register to identify essential services and to help with contact tracing, if required."

During the COVID-19 Alert Level 4 the Aratere is sailing with freight-only service and no passengers. The Kaiarahi and Kaitaki are available to carry commercial vehicles, drivers and passengers who meet the requirements for essential travel.

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