Mahurangi traveller relieved after Covid journey ordeal

Posted at 12:57pm Monday 13 Jul, 2020 | By James Addis editor@localmatters.co.nz

Kelly Grovehills says she will frame the boarding passes that allowed her to board a flight home.

Scotts Landing resident Kelly Grovehills vows she will frame her airline boarding passes after a harrowing seven-week ordeal attempting to return to New Zealand in a world plagued by Covid-19.

Kelly set off on her adventure of a lifetime in January, planning to spend a year travelling around the United Kingdom, Europe, India and Nepal.  

But once she reached Scotland, the seriousness of the global pandemic became ever more apparent and relatives urged her to head home.

Kelly prevaricated in the hope that things would blow over. However, one by one countries she hoped to visit shut their borders and she realised her touring plans were in tatters.

Nevertheless, coming home proved easier said than done.

“It took me seven weeks. I had three flights cancelled and was refused permission to board a further flight at Heathrow airport,” she says.

It has led Kelly to issue a warning to anyone thinking of travelling overseas. Travellers must be prepared for their travel plans to be disrupted at short notice in a highly volatile situation.

Kelly eventually found flights that had her transiting through Sydney. But to board the plane, she needed a letter from the New South Wales health authority clearing her to travel, a letter from New Zealand immigration saying she was a New Zealand permanent resident, permission from the Australian border authority to allow her to enter Australia, plus a three-day transit visa.

Even this was not enough. When she checked in at Heathrow for the second time, Qatar Airways was obliged to phone each of the separate authorities and confirm that her documents were in fact genuine.

“It was about 50 minutes before any Kiwi got their boarding passes,” Kelly says.

She describes overnight quarantine in Sydney as chaotic, with a single “harassed” nurse obliged to conduct medical checks on an entire planeload of people.

But she says her treatment on arrival in New Zealand was “A1” and decries media reports, which have suggested our border controls are a mess. Instead, she says they ran like a smooth
military operation.

At Auckland airport, about half a dozen booths were set up where nurses examined passengers. Those who had symptoms consistent with Covid-19 were sent to a “quarantine” hotel. Those without symptoms were sent to a “managed isolation” hotel.

At Kelly's hotel, air force personnel registered passengers, escorted them to their rooms and handed over a folder describing what was allowed and not allowed over the next 14 days.

The arrivals were confined to their rooms but could book an escorted walk during the day, as long as they maintained social distancing and travelled singly in the lift. A nurse checked on them every second day. Friends could drop off books and jigsaw puzzles in the lobby, but no contact was allowed. Kelly had to content herself with waving to them from her hotel room window.

Kelly noticed police cars turning up occasionally. She was told if the isolated refused to obey the rules, police were immediately informed and the offenders were taken to a “naughty hotel” where restrictions were tighter and a police officer was on duty on every floor.

Now out of isolation, Kelly says it's a relief to be back home.  

“In the UK, the Government response to this thing has been at least careless and at worst negligent. Here, by contrast, decisive action and care has clearly paid off,” she says.


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