How I swapped lockdown Britain for the paradise of Covid-free New Zealand
It was an unusual travel scenario, though perhaps befitting in what has been a truly bizarre year. Bleary-eyed and exhausted, I had been guided by uniformed Defence Force personnel through health and administrative procedures and then to a hotel room which I had not booked – at least, not in the traditional sense. This was where I spent 14 days isolating, the final hurdle after travelling 35 hours from my home in London to my home country of New Zealand. To some, bringing in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) may seem an extreme measure for accompanying weary travellers to their isolation accommodation. But the necessity is in the job title – they are part of the country’s first line of defence against Covid-19, which sees strict border controls, a comprehensive track-and-trace system, and a mandatory 14-day stay for all incoming travellers at one of 32 hotels that have been converted into Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities. The result of these measures has seen New Zealand recording very few Covid-19 cases outside of MIQ facilities since the country came out of lockdown in late April. Relative to the rest of the world, New Zealanders have been able to resume some semblance of normality in their everyday lives. Bars and restaurants are open, many of which are hosting office Christmas parties, retailers have a steady stream of pre-Christmas foot traffic, summer music festivals are going ahead and, except on some public transport and planes, there’s barely a mask in sight. The government’s elimination approach, praised by health experts around the globe, seemingly also gained the support of the nation when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern secured a landslide re-election in October.