Desperate Brits share what it's like being stranded in New Zealand

Lonely, anxious and scared – all three feelings are running high across the UK as we enter our fourth day of official lockdown, but these emotions are being felt even moreso by desperate Brits stranded on the other side of the world.

People around the world are trying to get back to Britain following global coronavirus lockdowns. But a considerable number of people are currently stuck the furthest away, in New Zealand.  

With the country now on a Level 4 lockdown, many of these stranded individuals are struggling after losing thousands of pounds on cancelled flights and with little help from the UK government.

Gemma and Lily have been trying to get home for a week, after cutting their travels short. The pair – who flew to Auckland in early March after finishing their university degrees – had been keeping a close eye on coronavirus updates and decided in mid-March to try and get home.

Gemma tells ‘We’ve had eight flights cancelled due to countries not allowing us to legally transit through and due to airlines suspending flights without warning.

‘Between us we have lost nearly £10K in flights and are currently only on track to receive about £2K in refunds with the rest being offered in airline credit.’

‘The airlines are still to this day offering flights that they know people can not feasibly board. Willing to take money in an instant but not so keen to refund it.

‘Both Lily and myself feel very let down by the British government. We have been offered close to no support from back home. There is much talk at home about the regulations that are being put in place in order to protect British citizens, however it seems this care does not stretch to those of us that are currently stranded on the other side of the world, thousands of pounds out of pocket and homeless during a lockdown.

‘We have watched citizens from other countries be offered extremely low fare charter flights by their governments to get home. However the same can not be said for the aid of the British government.’

Gemma adds: ‘The locals in New Zealand have been amazing, had we not been offered a stay in a church hall by a very kind family we wouldn’t have had anywhere to self-isolate during the lockdown.’

Sam Wannell had planned to live in New Zealand for a year but, following the coronavirus outbreak, decided to try and make his way home.

Earlier this week the Foreign Secretary urged people to fly home, or risk getting stuck abroad. But Sam believes this came too late – a decision which has left hundreds of people stranded.

Sam tells us: ‘I think the government has reacted far too late and hasn’t done anywhere near enough. They have stepped their game up in the past couple of days but they are giving an update per day and it isn’t always clear.

‘We received the call to return home, far too late, by that time we couldn’t return home – that call should have come a week earlier.’

Sam says his pleas for help have also been ignored by UK officials. 

He adds: ‘I had on multiple occasions attempted to contact either the foreign office or British High Commission and they either provided conflicting information, a general statement or didn’t answer at all.’

Fellow traveller Hannah Murphy, who is stranded with three of her friends, says she’s feeling extremely stressed about the prospect of not being able to return to the UK.

She says: ‘I’m worried about family during this unprecedented time and worried about financial prospects, as I have no idea how long we will have to spend in New Zealand.

‘Obviously a lockdown wherever you are is a daunting prospect – it’s intensified being stuck in a country that isn’t your own without your support system around you.

‘There is definitely the fear of the unknown in terms of what will happen next.’

Like Gemma, Lily and Sam, Hannah also feels let down by the UK government – particularly in relation to the contradictory information that’s been provided.

Hannah tells Metro: ‘There has been a severe lack of communication between governing bodies and the information they have been passing out to stranded Brits in New Zealand. For example, when we called the British Embassy, they were unaware of the ban on transiting through Singapore airport. 

‘We were also informed that we could use domestic flights if we were going to straight to an international terminal, but this morning this changed when they said it was fine to do so last night.’

Hannah says the only reassuring aspect is the fact that thousands of others are in the same position. She explains that a considerable number of Brits stuck in New Zealand are currently in a WhatsApp group – so they can all stay informed.

Adele, a 28-year-old who was travelling New Zealand with her partner, agrees that the only good thing to come out of the experience is the way it’s brought people together.

She says: ‘Perhaps the only positive we can spin on this moment is the unity felt between those of us stranded.

‘We are not just talking about backpackers. Among us, we have heard stories from elderly, families with young children, couples on honeymoon – people who were taking once in a lifetime holidays, some who are not tech savvy and unable to use the internet.

‘Throughout each day – which feels like lifetime – we turn to our phones and forums for reassurance, clarity and for a communal cry. Many of us have nothing else to do, stranded in full motel rooms, vans, even tents, just staring at the phone waiting for any news.’

Geoffrey Walton made a trip to New Zealand with his wife to visit their daughter.

He says they are in two minds as to whether to return or not and the lack of official advice hasn’t help with the decision.

Geoffrey explains:’We are torn between wanting to support the New Zealand government with their clear, well-organised plan to fight the virus and returning to the UK where infection rates are higher.

‘Should we even get on a plane and risk catching it or bringing the infection back to the UK?’

What has the government said about helping Brits abroad during the coronavirus pandemic?

Dominic Raab said: ‘We, first of all, would advise all travellers to take a look at the travel advice online, it’s the best and most comprehensive source of information – it’s updated in real time.

‘If people are in need of urgent assistance they should call our embassies and high commissioners.’

He added that the government is ‘doubling’ the capacity of consular contact centres again ‘to deal with the surge in demand’.

Raab said: ‘We are helping to reduce travel costs by encouraging airlines to have maximum flexibility on change and return tickets.

‘Where people are in real need, our consular teams will work with them to consider their options – as a last resort, we offer an emergency loan.’

The government’s official advice is as follows: ‘If you live in the UK and are currently travelling abroad, you are strongly advised to return now, where and while there are still commercial routes available. Many airlines are suspending flights and many airports are closing, preventing flights from leaving.’

  • all British travellers abroad who are usually based in the UK advised to return now 
  • international travel is becoming highly limited with the further closure of air routes, land borders and domestic restrictions introduced daily 
  • British travellers should contact their tour operator or airline now. Commercial flight options are still available at present 

Dominic Raab has urged people to check the travel advice online (Picture: PA)

He also singled out New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Peru as places he was working with to get stranded Brits back in the UK.

An FCO spokesperson told ‘We recognise British tourists abroad are finding it difficult to return to the UK because of the unprecedented international travel and domestic restrictions that are being introduced  around the world – often with very little or no notice.

‘The FCO is working around the clock to support British travellers in this situation to allow them to come back to the UK. The government is seeking to keep key transit routes open as long as possible and is in touch with international partners and the airline industry to make this happen. Consular staff are supporting those with urgent need while providing travel advice and support to those still abroad.’

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