Unlike most countries, New Zealand has, so far, not felt the force of the Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic, with very few cases. But their government has acted decisively and almost completely cut the country off from the rest of the world with unfortunate consequences for many of the foreigners trapped there, including one local family from Scotforth.
When, last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acted decisively in an attempt to get ahead of the Covid-19 curve, she put New Zealand into strict lockdown far earlier than other western leaders with very little pre-planning. Her actions have had a massive impact on a local Lancaster family who are effectively trapped there and desperate to get home.
“We’re a family of three from Scotforth in Lancaster. I have a daughter at Ripley School and a son at Bowerham Primary. With my mum, stepdad, sister, brother in law and two nephews, we travelled to Christchurch for my stepsister’s wedding in March. We were due to stay for three weeks, before returning home to the UK on the 1st April.”
But, little did she know that getting out of New Zealand would become nigh on impossible for them. “It happened so fast. The country went into lockdown on March 25th at one minute to midnight. We were given just 48 hours notice.”
According the British Foreign Office the New Zealand Government announced temporary restrictions on travellers in response to coronavirus and because of this a number of airline operators immediately announced that international flights to and from New Zealand either were suspended or will be suspended very shortly.
A roof above their heads
Thankfully the family have managed to keep a roof over their heads but at a very high cost; “Luckily we’ve been able to get back into the Airbnb that we stayed in the first week with my sister and her family, we had been heading towards Queenstown before having to rush back. But, as this costs us $1200 a week, this is very expensive.”
“Until yesterday the New Zealand government would not allow anyone onto domestic flights unless they were key workers in the country. Those restrictions have since been lifted, but flights to Auckland and beyond have been snapped up really quickly and the ones that are left are well beyond our price range.”
Flights, even just domestic ones within New Zealand are astronomically expensive; “Some are coming in at over $100k for the nine of us to travel. We are in contact with our travel agent, our insurance company and the British High Commission in Wellington. They are working toward repatriation flights, but as we are in a country with good healthcare and facilities, we are understandably not top of the list. Also, there are people in NZ who are in far more precarious situations than us.”
Flights on hold
The family do have flights on hold but because of the restrictions on destinations their carrier, Emirates, are currently operating they just cannot use these; “We’re lucky, we do still have flights on hold with Emirates, but they are only flying from Dubai to Europe, not currently transiting.”
Foreign Office advice
Those who want to return to the UK soon should take account of the fast-moving situation and plan accordingly. However, as our Lancaster family have discovered, flight availability is extremely limited. Because of this, British Nationals are being advised to find somewhere to stay in New Zealand and consider staying put for the period of New Zealand’s lockdown.
If British Nationals already in New Zealand can’t stay put, and this is all the more difficult because the length of the lockdown is a complete unknown, they are advised to contact their airline, travel provider, and insurance company for the latest information.
“We’re hoping for more information over the weekend, but currently the only flights we can reasonably afford are not until the end of April/May.”
Similar to the UK
Life in Christchurch, the largest city in New Zealand’s South Island, is at the moment very similar to life here at home, people are being told to stay at home, maintain social distancing and only go out for essential purposes and exercise; “Luckily, we have a hire car that we can use to go shopping, and we are allowed out for a walk, it’s similar to the UK but otherwise it’s complete lockdown.”
Desperate to get home
Naturally, our family are desperate to get home to their loved ones but, even from the other side of the world (Nearly 12,000 miles away) they are standing firm with the UK in their support of our brilliant NHS; “I joined in via FaceTime with my neighbours doing the NHS clap! It was so emotional! And my sister who is a critical care nurse at Royal Preston Hospital is desperate to get home and help treat people that need nursing care so badly in our area.”
For more information and up to date government advice please visit https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/new-zealand/return-to-the-uk