Kiwi, 49, dies of Covid-19 in Peru after failing to board mercy flight home

Author
Dubby Henry, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 21 Apr 2020, 12:41PM
Edward Storey, 49, died in an apartment in Cusco in Peru, some time after texting his family on April 7. The town is normally a hive of tourist activity but is now eerily quiet. Stock photo / 123RF
Edward Storey, 49, died in an apartment in Cusco in Peru, some time after texting his family on April 7. The town is normally a hive of tourist activity but is now eerily quiet. Stock photo / 123RF

Kiwi, 49, dies of Covid-19 in Peru after failing to board mercy flight home

Author
Dubby Henry, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 21 Apr 2020, 12:41PM

Edward Storey was meant to be on the New Zealand Government's mercy flight home from Peru last week.

But he never made it home - instead he died alone in an apartment in Cusco. He tested positive for Covid-19 after his death, his devastated family says.

The 49-year-old Kiwi's grieving parents had no idea he was sick.

Edward Spencer Storey was the beloved son of Te Awamutu couple Keith and Delysse Storey, his obituary in today's Herald says.

Delysse told the Herald her son had been trekking the popular Inca Trail to Machu Picchu when the Peruvian government announced a nationwide lockdown in mid-March. His trek was shut down halfway through, and he'd had to bribe police to get back to Cusco.

He and other Kiwis holed up in the small tourist town waiting for a mercy flight to get home.

Edward had last texted the family on April 7, the day after the New Zealand Government announced it was chartering a flight to bring back stranded Kiwis. A domestic connection from Cusco was put on to take New Zealanders to Lima, from where they would fly home.

Hotels had shut down but Edward managed to find a Cusco apartment online and was staying there until the flight.

But although he had registered, he never boarded the plane. The family contacted Internal Affairs, then airport police, who said he was listed as cancelled. They filed a missing persons report and Interpol got involved.

Police found Edward dead in his flat in the historical quarter on the 17th. He was tested for Covid-19 and found to be positive.

The exact date of his death can't be confirmed but Delysse believes it was on the 13th, the day after Easter Sunday, and which is stated in his obituary.

The family had been notified on April 19 of Edward's death, she said. None of them had even known he was sick.

"It was so quick. None of us had any idea at all...The emails just stopped."

On his return from the Inca Trail Edward had described Cusco as "like a zombie apocalypse", Delysse said.

"He had to try and find shelter. But he was under the understanding that there wasn't lots of Covid around...obviously there was."

She believed the situation in Cusco was worse than reported. The town's high altitude in the Andes makes it hard to breathe at the best of times, especially for tourists who aren't acclimatised. There is reportedly a backlog of bodies waiting to be cremated.

New Zealand's embassy had been "absolutely fantastic", as had other New Zealand authorities, Delysse said. Despite her grief, she posted a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this morning thanking her for the "incredible" efforts the Government had made for Kiwis overseas.

A statement from New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said its embassy in Chile was liaising closely with the Peruvian authorities regarding the death of a New Zealander in Peru.

"Consular assistance is being provided to the family. In respect of the family's wish for privacy, no further comment will be provided," MFAT said. The statement did not confirm whether Storey had died of Covid-19.

Edward Storey, son of Te Awamutu couple Keith and Delysse Storey, died in Cuzco of Covid-19 about a week ago. File photo / Dean Taylor
Edward Storey, son of Te Awamutu couple Keith and Delysse Storey, died in Cuzco of Covid-19 about a week ago. File photo / Dean Taylor

Delysse wants her son - a former head boy of Auckland's Kings College - remembered for his brilliance, and his kind heart.

"He was an incredible humanitarian...He was a wonderful, caring, amazing, humble man. He didn't have a partner or his children but he was a wonderful brother and all those things."

Siblings Fraser, Scott and Kate and in-laws Wendy, Robynne and Blair are also mentioned in Edward's obituary. The notice calls him the "favourite uncle" of Richard, and Elsie, and the twins Maddie and Vivi. "You will live in our hearts forever."

Edward was "probably one of the most intelligent people I know", his mother said. He had been working in IT in Wellington before selling his apartment there and heading off on a world trip to celebrate turning 50 this year.

He was "so happy" when he left for his trip in January - at the time, it wasn't clear how badly travel was going to be affected, although he did take masks as a precaution.

Thailand was Edward's first stop, then Peru. He had planned to fly out on March 26.

He had been staying in a hotel before going on the trek, but hotels were closed down on his return and it had taken him some time to find somewhere to stay.

Delysse would like to hear from anyone who encountered Edward while in lockdown in Cusco, as she believes other Kiwis would have interacted with him.

While she thinks Edward may be the first Kiwi to die overseas of Covid-19, Delysse said she's not the only person grieving the loss of a loved one.

A historian, she spent 20 years on research about mothers whose sons fought in the Great War, many never to return.

"It's no different. It's a war we can't see but the consequences are still the same. I share this grief with every other mother, if not so many families who can't get the bodies of their loved ones, they can't have funerals."

"The Queen said we will be together again, we will see our families again. That's how everybody in the world is feeling right now - but the tragedy is if a person dies when you're here and they're over there and it's unknown."

Edward will be cremated and his remains returned to New Zealand for a memorial service when circumstances allow.

According to Johns Hopkins University there have been 15,628 cases in Peru so far and 400 deaths.

Peru went into lockdown on March 16 at short notice to contain the spread of the virus, and the sudden border closures meant there were few flights available out of the country.

New Zealand's government organised a mercy flight for the 83 Kiwis who were known to be trapped there, but only around 60 people boarded the flight, which arrived home on April 15.

Worldwide there have been more than 2,447,000 cases, with 168,500 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. In New Zealand just 12 people have died - all elderly and with underlying health conditions. Death rates from Covid-19 climb in older cohorts.

However, Storey's death is more unusual. Aged 49, his chances of dying of the virus were less than one in ten, according to a UK study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

The analysis of figures out of Wuhan in China found 4.3 per cent of people aged 40-49 died from the virus, while in those aged 50-59 who contracted the virus the chance of death was 8.2 per cent.