New Zealanders aren’t exactly rolling out the welcome wagon for their fellow residents who have ridden out the coronavirus pandemic for the past several months in other countries. In fact, in some cases, the homecoming has been downright hostile.
It’s something Ellen, a 30-year-old Kiwi returning home from London, found out the hard way.
She knew she would be quarantined for two weeks after arriving at Auckland airport but instead of being taken to a local hotel, she was put on a bus and driven 140 miles away to Rotorua. She claims she wasn’t allowed to buy food or water or use the bathroom before her four-hour bus ride.
When Ellen tweeted about it, instead of finding people sympathetic to her experience, many lashed out, turning on her for complaining.
“Stay away from us until you’re declared safe,” one person wrote. “So sorry if we don’t care about your food needs.”
Passengers wait to board their flight at Christchurch Airport in Christchurch, New Zealand, Thursday, May 14, 2020. New Zealand lifted most of its remaining lockdown restrictions from midnight Wednesday (noon Wed GMT) as the country prepares for a new normal. Malls, retail stores and restaurants will reopen and many people will return to their workplaces. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
The tiny island nation in the Pacific has largely been able to dodge the COVID-19 bullet that has ripped through much of the world.
The fear that the deadly virus, which has claimed more than 483,000 lives globally, could be brought ashore by returning residents has triggered a brutal backlash.
“It was just baffling to me that these very fundamental, basic human needs that people would be willing to deny those in others,” Ellen told The Guardian. “By no means have any of us been complaining about needing to quarantine, or the sacrifices or even the quality of quarantine. We just wanted to be told what was happening.”
Until about a week ago, New Zealand was considered coronavirus-free. The island had recorded 24 consecutive days with no new cases of the virus. However, over the past few days, as New Zealanders have been returning home, the number of new cases has ticked up.
Hotels designated to house people in quarantine have been quickly filling up. As of Monday, there were 4,200 people in quarantine with another 900 more expected by Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses a press conference where she announced New Zealand will drop to Covid-19 alert level 1 at midnight tonight, in Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, June 8, 2020. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)
With so many people coming back, the anxiety level has been through the roof.
Tensions boiled over a few days ago when officials were forced to admit that two women returning from Britain had been allowed to leave quarantine early without being tested. Dozens of others were also allowed to leave before the government tightened the rules.
Now, as more and more New Zealanders are returning home, the fear that the virus could spread among the country’s 5 million people has taken hold.
“Early on, we predicted there would be much higher levels of anxiety, but people really pulled together as this ‘team of five million,'” said Douglas Sutherland, a clinical practice manager at Victoria University’s school of psychology.
The “team of 5 million” refers to the phrase Arden used to unite New Zealand during the country’s strict national lockdown in March and April.
“On the other side, it seems like there’s a few fractures and splinters,” Sutherland told The Guardian. “That animosity towards returning New Zealanders who might have had the coronavirus is part of a fight, flight or freeze response, and the fight response really activates that anger part of it.”
You can find Barnini Chakraborty on Twitter @Barnini.