Kia Ora Aotearoa!
Guest Writer Louisa Tipene Opetaia shares her experience with managed isolation in Auckland, New Zealand after flying to the US to bring her three children home with her.
Her three Māori/Sāmoan kids live in California with their father but after seeing the rates that Covid-19 have been infecting Americans and the Black Lives Matter protests turning violent Louisa felt that she needed to bring them home. With both her sons only having US passports she was initially denied travel ban exemptions so she flew to Los Angeles to bring them back and applied again - she was finally approved on condition they travel with her.
She describes travelling during a pandemic as a surreal experience with once bustling airports now with limited numbers of flights and passengers. All Duty Free stores were closed and the only dining option at the food court at Los Angeles Airport was Panda Express.
FLYING DURING A PANDEMIC
As always the Air New Zealand staff were gracious and welcoming. They were masked and gloved every time they interacted with us. We found out that it was to be the final flight for most of the crew and so it was tinged with sadness for them and us. Two passengers, a husband and wife, sang Pokarekare Ana over the plane’s intercom system partway through the flight and dedicated it to the crew. I felt a bit choked up for them and for all of us. My little family was glad to be going home to the safety of Aotearoa but we had to leave many loved ones behind in California.
The Airport Health Assessment on arrival in New Zealand consisted of us having our temperatures taken, all normal levels, and being questioned about our health and how we were feeling. This is where they determine if you are ill. If you have symptoms such as a high fever or you aren’t feeling well, you will be sent to the Jet Park Hotel in Mangere for quarantine.
I love the arrivals lounge at Auckland Airport. I remember going there as a child to pick up various family members. I have been welcomed there myself - with a rousing haka - when I brought the body of my brother-in-law home after he died suddenly in the UK. I arrived triumphantly with my terminally ill mother in 2017, travelling from Australia against medical advice on a rescue mission to grant her final wish to die at home in Aotearoa. The arrivals lounge has been the site of some very emotional homecomings for me.
Seeing that lounge empty was a sobering thought. This is not the world it once was. Even Aotearoa in level one is not back to what it was. Auckland Airport is empty.
We shuffled off to our bus and found out we were going to do two weeks of managed isolation at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland. The Pullman is a beautiful hotel and we were glad to be staying in Auckland, since I live in South Auckland, but we were just grateful to be out of the danger zone. If we had ended up in Rotorua, Christchurch or Wellington, we would not have complained because our sense of gratitude and my sense of relief is so strong.
We get our temperatures taken daily outside our rooms with an additional call from the nurse in the hotel to check how we are feeling. We have received calls from the Ministry of Health checking in on us. Yesterday, Day 3, we all had our Covid-19 nasal tests done. This will be repeated again on Day 12.
We get three meals each delivered to our rooms daily. We ordered a week's worth of meals upon arrival. We have mostly avoided any hostile conflicts. It isn’t always enough food for my sons but so far, so good. We can exercise in an open area between certain hours but we chose to stay in our rooms for the first few days. We are too tired to do much of anything. We each get three laundry bags done for free during our two-week stay and if there is anything extra we will gladly pay for it.
I packed a suitcase before I left NZ with warm clothes, games and books for managed isolation. My sister was able to drop it off at the hotel for me. On arrival I ordered a week’s worth of groceries from the local supermarket and they were dropped off at the hotel the next day. Fruit, chocolate, wine, bath bombs - all the essentials. We are comfortable and safe. We don’t have any complaints about our experience going through this process. I sometimes find myself thinking, this wifi is so slow or the water pressure is weak but no, I’m not complaining - I am going to think positive thoughts. It’s only two weeks!
I know returnees are being labelled as moaners but you will hear no complaints from me. I am grateful to be home and to be able to offer safety and sanctuary to my global citizen children during these troubling times. We are willing to do whatever is asked of us so that we can do our time in managed isolation and keep ourselves and the NZ public safe. Words to the wise: The NZ border was never truly closed. It is closed to foreigners but kiwis overseas have always had the right of return. It’s in our Bill of Rights Act 1990, Section 18 Freedom of Movement (2) that Every New Zealand Citizen has the right to enter New Zealand. We cannot shut the border to our own people.
Be assured that the border restrictions are doing what they are designed to do. Contain the virus at the border. The recent breaches have ensured the strict procedures in place are being followed to keep everyone safe. Don’t panic. There’s no community transmission. I would be the first one to do the haka if I saw that protocols were not being followed.
As we have done all through this pandemic, let us continue to follow the advice of the experts as we go through these unprecedented events.
KEEP CALM AND BE KIND
What I have been most impressed with is all the support we have received on our journey. From friends and wh ā nau but also strangers online. The media took an interest in my story and many people have been following along and sending good vibes for a positive outcome. People offered to start a crowdfunding campaign if I needed funds and a petition to help my applications for exceptions. Even now I have received numerous offers from people asking what I need so they can drop things off to my hotel. I came into this process with a good attitude and I am getting through it with my usual positivity. I cherish every gesture and offer of support.Manaakitanga (hospitality), aroha (love), tautoko (support), kotahitanga (unity) - these are concepts that we live and thrive by. My children and I are well. We don’t need anything but we appreciate everything. Having a New Zealand passport is like holding a golden ticket and I feel like we have won the global lottery.