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Tautoko tāngata, tautoko hapori

We stand ready and are here to help.

Our size, skills, equipment and training are geared for combat, but when you’re as large as our New Zealand Defence Force, with a lot of personnel with a diverse range of skills and specialised assets, you end up being very valuable when New Zealand, New Zealanders or our friends need help.


Uniting against an unseen enemy

In 2020, a virus shut down the world. On 19 March, New Zealand closed its borders. By 9 April, the Prime Minister announced that a network of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Facilities (MIQFs) would be established, to bring citizens and residents home.

early 2020

Around 120 of our Defence Force's planning and logistics staff were attached to the Government’s COVID-19 response teams. 64 campervans were placed at our Defence training facility on Whangaparaoa Peninsula to create New Zealand’s first quarantine facility in modern times. Ranging from children to the elderly, 157 returnees from Wuhan arrive at the facility. 


As the pandemic continued, the New Zealand Government established a Managed Isolation and Quarantine system where several hotels were turned into isolation facilities.

From April 2020, returning New Zealanders were required to isolate in these facilities before entering the community. Our Defence Force was soon tasked with supporting these Managed Isolation and Quarantine Facilities (MIQ), as part of a multi-agency effort led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). Around 1,200 of our personnel were rotating through the MIQ facilities at any one time, taking their turn at assisting with daily operations, management, logistics, security, planning and a range of other roles. 

It’s a very busy job, but if you care about people, it’s easy. You need to have empathy and be a personable person.

Chief Petty Officer Greg Bishell, Manager at an MIQF

A soldier stands guard at a managed isolation facility and engages with returnees at a safe distance

NZDF involvement at Managed Isolation Facilities

Operation Protect, the name of our Defence Force's contribution, touched at the heart of what we train to do. Our staff were on the front line, helping to protect our country and the well-being of our population, and did it in a professional and caring way that was widely recognised and had a powerful effect on the 230,000 New Zealanders that returned home.

Elsewhere, we supported the New Zealand Police with checkpoint duties around Auckland as the region experienced changes in alert levels, and stood beside NZ Customs to provide an increased maritime border presence at commercial ports.

"When we took a bus ride to a managed exercise area, they kept their distance, but one of the soldiers provided some entertainment for my daughter for half an hour, telling her riddles. Another time, someone did a lot of chalk mind-teasers on the car park tarmac below our window. It’s that kindness and thoughtfulness that makes people’s stay that little bit better."

  • Mike LaFranchie, Taranaki (returning from the US)

When more than 1,000 Ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers are stranded in New Zealand, we answer a call from the Government of Vanuatu and our Royal New Zealand Air Force fly them home. Other flights to the Pacific transport both people and critical suppliers such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

More than 1000 Vanuatu nationals departing Auckland from RNZAF Base Whenuapai on a Boeing aircraft

More than 1000 Vanuatu nationals departing Auckland from RNZAF Base Whenuapai on a Boeing aircraft

DURING 2021  

Into the second year of our Defence Force’s response to the pandemic, we provided further assistance to our Pacific neighbours. In June 2021, an NZDF medical officer joins an Australian-led response to a surge in COVID-19 in Fiji.  

The following month, our Navy complete a 5000 nautical mile trip to transport Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to one of the most remote places in the world, with HMNZS Wellington successfully delivering a COVID-19 vaccine consignment to the Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu atolls of Tokelau. 

Delivery of COVID 19 vaccines to Palmerston Island completed

Operation Pacific Vaccinate

Transporting the vaccines on behalf of the Ministry of Health, HMNZS Wellington and her 76 crew utilise a Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat and Seasprite helicopter to carry out contactless deliveries of the vaccine stock. The efforts also saw vaccine deliveries made to Palmerston Island in the northern Cook Islands to deliver enough doses for the 40-strong eligible population there. 

"With us Pacific Islanders serving in uniform, it means a lot to us... It’s about going back home, giving back to our people, representing the Royal New Zealand Navy, and making our families proud.” 

  • Petty Officer Seamanship Combat Specialist (POSCS) Thomas Katu 

As well as providing support to our Pacific neighbours, and the MIQFs, ten of our NZ Army medical personnel put their training into action at the Sky Stadium drive-through vaccination centre as part of Op Protect. With an aim to vaccinate 1,000 Wellington residents per day, our personnel and staff came together with Capital and Coast District Health Board, Tū Ora Primary Health Organisation, Whitireia Polytech nursing students and Wellington Free Ambulance to help vaccinate Wellingtonians.  

In March 2022 the Government announced that with the re-opening of NZ’s border, the decision was made to reduce the MIQs by June 2022.

20210908 NZDF C1033116 002

DURING 2022  

The Government announced in March 2022 that with the re-opening of New Zealand’s border, the decision was made to reduce the 32 MIQ facilities to four by the end of June 2022. The reduction in facilities meant the MIQ workforce in them would change too, with our NZDF personnel beginning to return to their usual duties.

By 31 March 2022, around 90% of NZDF personnel had returned to their respective camps and bases around the country. A small number of NZDF personnel remained in MIQ national office and regional operations to assist with the transition of roles to MBIE.

MBIE Deputy Secretary and Head of MIQ, Chris Bunny, said the contribution of the NZDF had been instrumental over the past two years.

“The skill, professionalism and mahi of the NZDF contribution has been a defining factor in shaping the success of MIQ."

  • MBIE Deputy Secretary and Head of MIQ, Chris Bunny

“Along the way bonds have been formed, different perspectives shared and a common approach achieved. The involvement of the NZDF has been an intrinsic part of the fabric of MIQ.”

Friday 13 May 2022 marked the official withdrawal of NZDF personnel from MIQ duties as part of Operation Protect. A ceremony was held at Devonport Naval Base which officially concluded our service on Operation Protect and allowed NZDF leaders and personnel to recognise the significant contribution our people made to keep New Zealanders safe during the pandemic.

“We acknowledge the work of a very large number of NZDF staff, who, for over two years have come together to protect New Zealand, and New Zealanders from a global threat not seen since 1918, when NZ last faced a pandemic of this scale” said Group Captain Glenn Gowthorpe, Commander Joint Task Force.

Operation Protect has been one of the single largest commitments of NZDF personnel made to a response in more than 50 years. Around 6,200 of our people were involved, with some on regular rotations throughout the duration of the operation.

Group Captain Glenn Gowthorpe, Commander Joint Task Force thanked all those who spent time deployed on the Operation.

“I want to thank all of you, the various groups who came together to form the platform for the NZDF to provide the planning, organisation, execution skills and processes that kept New Zealand safe for such a long period. Thank you for your efforts, sacrifices and professionalism.”

  • Group Captain Glenn Gowthorpe, Commander Joint Task Force

The commitment to Operation Protect created challenges and opportunities for both the NZDF as an organisation and for our people as individuals.

From leadership development, to working with other agencies, managing risk, developing and delivering in a more empathetic way, and utilising soft skills. The presence, leadership, and mahi of our NZDF people did not go unnoticed and has significantly enhanced the awareness and reputation of the NZDF.

We must too acknowledge the challenges this Operation has presented us, including impacts of career disruptions, BAU training and capability development, and personal or family sacrifices.

As our personnel return to their usual duties at our camps and bases, we have begun regrouping, refreshing our training, and regenerating the capabilities that have been impacted by this enormous commitment.

View our COVID-19 response page for all the latest numbers and information.