Issue 300: 2021 11 11: Travel

11 November 2021


In the time of Covid.

By Robert Kilconner

“He’ll hear no tone
Of the maiden he loves so well!
No telephone
Communicates with his cell!”

Well, that may have been the case when Gilbert and Sullivan wrote HMS Pinafore, but New Zealand’s Managed Isolation Units are more civilized. Free wifi, phones in every room, meals delivered to the door and large televisions. Was ever a “dungeon cell“ better appointed?

The whole process of travelling from the UK to NZ is slightly forbidding at the moment. First there is a lot of paperwork. The days when you just needed a ticket and a passport are long gone; now there is a visa for non NZ nationals, a certificate of vaccination, a recent Covid test result and a booking with the Managed Isolation and Quarantine people. These bookings are hard to come by, the demand by returning Kiwis far exceeding those available, so they are probably the critical path for the whole process. Fortunately the length of the managed isolation is now being reduced from 14 to 7 days, albeit with a few days of home isolation thereafter, so that should increase availability. If you are staying for over 180 days the NZ Government foots the bill.

To travel long haul is to appreciate the financial crisis facing the airline industry. Previously bustling airports, in our case Heathrow and Changi, are quiet, the staff being particularly careful and correct. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into procedure and precautions and everyone is very helpful; still, to walk through these enormous facilities is a little like strolling through ancient Luxor, the main difference being that the owners still have to pay interest to their banks. Flights too are less full than usual. Heathrow/Singapore is normally a thriving route but now there are plenty of empty seats – a great matter for those who like to stretch out over adjacent space but less good for those whose incomes depend on a high rate of usage. It is hard not to feel sad.

Arriving in Auckland is a new experience altogether. A combination of security and NZ military is responsible for sorting passengers out and conducting them to the appropriate quarantine facilities and once you are there the rules are strict. You cannot leave your room save for one hour’s pre-booked exercise in the hotel car park. Meals are left at your door rather than being handed in. Still, a great deal of trouble has been taken to make things as pleasant as these restrictions permit and you can order wine and beer from the hotel; also extra food in the remote circumstance that you feel that the level of exercise justifies it.

No doubt we will survive our quarantine, but those who think that at that stage it is all over are in for a disappointment. The next step is to get from Auckland to our Whanganui cottage. Auckland is in lockdown at the moment so permits would be required to leave by road. Well, never mind, a quick journey by air should fix it. Ah, but the Auckland/Whanganui service is suspended. What about a hire car from Wellington which we return when we are next there? But doesn’t that leave us stuck there? Ok, another hire car from Whanganui for one of us to drive to Wellíngton when we take the first one back.  Sounds good at the moment but no doubt there is plenty that can still go wrong.

How long will all this last? There are two circumstances in which managed isolation becomes redundant. The first is if the NZ authorities become convinced that compliance with isolation at home would be strong enough for the difference between the two systems to become insignificant in the context of infection levels generally. That becomes more likely as those infection levels increase. The second is if the disparity of infection levels between the UK and NZ becomes small enough not to need protection. We in the UK can only affect the second circumstance, so do your bit dear reader. Have your jabs.

Tile Photo by John McArthur on Unsplash

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