Two Stroudies in New Zealand – what happened to us!
Hello All, from autumnal Auckland!
Having spent three months here from December 2019 visiting daughter Rosie, partner Craig and 18 month old grandaughter Cassie, we left New Zealand on 3rd March, to visit south-east Asia before returning home to Stroud UK at the end of March. We had planned to visit and volunteer at projects we support and raise funds for in Laos, and also to visit son Jack and partner Nguyet in Vietnam.
After spending time in Bangkok and then travelling further south in Thailand, it became clear that visiting either Laos or Vietnam would be risky or indeed impossible because of increasing travel restrictions due to Covid19.
In mid March we were in a delightful town called Prachuab Khiri Khan, we met up and talked with several other European and American travellers, and it was becoming clear to us all that Covid-19 was spreading quickly. Some people, including us, were beginning to think we might have to (due to travel restrictions), or indeed choose to, stay in Thailand where the figures seemed to be low. However, we soon learned that the numbers might have been under-reported, and that Thailand wasn’t as safe as it appeared.
We then received urgent phone calls from Rosie and Jack, who were keen for us to join one of them rather than return to the UK, which looked increasingly very risky. Travelling back was becoming very risky, and testing was not really happening in the UK The government seemed to be reacting more slowly than other countries, particularly New Zealand and Vietnam. Unbelievably to us looking on from abroad, we read that race meetings and international football matches were still going ahead.. We had to make big decisions very quickly. Vietnam closed its borders and Rosie informed us that New Zealand was introducing restrictions, which at that stage involved everyone arriving having to self-isolate for 14 days, and was also likely to close its borders very soon too.
When we got up the next day, Monday 16th March, we realised things were changing very fast and that it would be best to leave as soon as possible. We booked a very expensive flight for the following day, hurriedly packed and got the trainback to Bangkok where we noticed how eerily empty the roads were.
There was no physical distancing at the airport in Bangkok but they did do temperature checks.
The flight was less than half full, so people were freely moving around to find rows of seats to lie down on during the long overnight flight. There were several passengers with significant coughs….
We arrived at Auckland Airport on 18th March, there was no physical distancing at that time but we queued to fill in a form to say we had no symptoms and to talk to the staff who were doing rudimentary checks about self-isolation. We learnt afterwards that this was the last flight from Bangkok, we were very lucky!
The New Zealand border was closed to foreigners the day after, on 19th March, and much more stringent checks and regulations came in for those arriving from abroad.
Rosie had booked an Airbnb room for us on the 12th floor in a big hotel complex in central Auckland to isolate in. She had made a good choice, the place was small but it did include a little kitchen area so we could cook the food that she dropped off outside the front door of the hotel. Physical distancing was now firmly in place for all and there were several like us self-isolating (people arriving from abroad or with symptoms). Using the lift was complicated as by this time it was clear that Covid 19 stayed on surfaces. We were able to exercise on the 190 steps to the 12th floor and on the open air first-floor tennis court. The hotel began to close down more and more. We made friends with the reception staff there who were very helpful and understanding.
After a few days, Pammy developed a sore throat and dry cough, and following guidelines for those returning from overseas, went for a covid 19 test. Rosie had left us her car in the hotel car park so we travelled the few miles to the test centre, which was actually quite exciting for us as we hadn’t been out for a while! We waited in our car in a queue, then answered questions about our travels and health, and Pammy was duly swabbed, not a pleasant experience but we were very grateful to the staff involved, and for the opportunity to have the test. Following the test, we then had to remain in our room until we had the result, which we eventually received as negative 9 days later. We were then allowed to leave our “bubble”of two, to join Rosie and her family after they had also isolated for 14 days, meaning we would all be safe for each other.
We were absolutely thrilled and delighted to join Rosie, Craig and Cassie! We had seen them when they dropped food off in the road outside the hotel, but only through the car window, and not of course done the usual hugging and kissing! Rosie is working from home, and Craig as an outdoor construction worker started work on Tuesday 28 April, after nearly 5 weeks of being at home during Level 4. This means we are now the primary care-givers for Cassie, which we love (her day care centre is closed).
We have been much encouraged by watching the exemplary Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her team on TV every day at 1pm. They speak clearly, knowledgeably and compassionately, and also very truthfully about the situation, often saying it’s a team of 5 million (population of New Zealand) who are all responsible for eliminating the Virus here. Their approach of early lockdown and strict managing of borders put the health of people first. They believe the best chance for the economy to recover early is to tackle the virus as quickly as possible. The early signs are encouraging, with new cases in single figures every day for a week now.
People ask us if we miss UK and home. Since we have visited Rosie in New Zealand several times over the last few years we feel at home here as well as the UK. We have made some friends and connections, through refugee talks, links with Amnesty International, the Labour Party, Servas organisation and Extinction Rebellion. We do of course miss family and friends and our community in Stroud, but keep in close touch with them through phone calls, Whatsapp, Zoom, etc..
We’re enjoying the first few days of Level 3 Lockdown now, with takeaways open. This phase will initially last for two weeks. If things continue to go well then we may be going to level 2 after that, with a bit more freedom again.
Border controls are likely to stay in place as that is the main vulnerability for New Zealand. At present there are very few flights leaving and entering New Zealand and all those arriving go into quarantine. We don’t know when our return flight to UK will happen as it relies on Thai Air flying from New Zealand to Bangkok, and then from Bangkok to Heathrow.
So did we make the right choice, to return to New Zealand rather than trying to return to UK? We think we did. We based the decision partly on Rosie and Jack’s concern, and also on how it might have been for us to take the risky journey back to UK and then home. Pammy has a history of pleurisy, bronchilitis and costocondritis and Paul is 73 so we would both have had to isolate. We were particularly concerned about Pammy’s Mum who is 93 but knew we wouldn’t be able to visit her and were reassured that family would visit and look after her. Here we are able to be with Rosie and Craig at this difficult time and support them by caring for Cassie.
So, we wish all our family and friends and indeed everyone in UK and worldwide a speedy recovery from Covid 19.
PAMMY MICHELL AND PAUL SHEVLIN
30TH APRIL 2020.