I am in New Zealand having a six-week break whilst I consider my future. Little did I realise that this quest to achieve a bucket list moment would end up such a crisis. I am stranded on the South Island, but I want to fly home to help fight coronavirus.
New Zealand moved more swiftly than most countries calling a level four incident before any Covid-19 deaths. It gave everyone 48 hours’ notice to get ready, but this was not enough. I had just two days to drive in my rented campervan from a beach at the northern tip of the South Island to Christchurch and find somewhere to stay.
The UK Government was telling citizens to get themselves home at the same time as the airlines were sending messages cancelling flights and camper van companies were asking for their vans back before the roads closed. New Zealand then cancelled domestic flights, meaning that even if there were affordable international flights, I would not be able to reach the international airport in Auckland to take one.
I have been in a hotel room in Christchurch ever since. The UK Government tells us help is coming – with Dominic Raab announcing funding to airlift stranded Britons home – earlier this week – but isolation and frustration is leading to fury among health professionals stranded abroad. I have a flight and then I don’t, I have government decision and then I don’t. The one constant is New Zealand’s decision to enforce the rules and ensure their citizens are safe. I can’t really argue with that.
The people at home ask me why I don’t stay where I am, where I am safe. I cannot stay because there is work to do in the health system in the UK. The guilt of not being there is only managed by knowing that stranded health workers should be back to let colleagues take their break soon. IN the meantime, I’m doing some volunteer work from my room and writing Covid-19 training materials for management in low- and middle- income countries.
Dominic Raab has reminded the airlines of their obligation to their customers; I would like to remind him of his obligations to us too. We are in the wrong place at the wrong time but are doing the right thing. We are following the lockdown rules and many like me are completely alone. We are doing our bit to make sure we are safe, safe to travel and safe to others. We now need the Government to do their bit.
Health professionals are calling out to get home, to get to work, to support their colleagues. I would like the UK to look beyond the current campaign to phone retired staff to persuade them to go to work and extend it to get our NHS team home. A different type of returner strategy – one that notices staff who are already trained, ready and able. It just needs a government that is willing to give us a lift to work.