This morning we’re making history together. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a nationwide show has been broadcast in New Zealand, from within managed isolation. Hopefully the technology holds. Hopefully my tests come back negative. But if you hear a bang on the door in the background...it might be my breakfast.
You don’t find out where you’ll be quarantining until the plane hits the tarmac in New Zealand. A policeman is the first person down the air bridge. He takes the microphone at the front of the cabin.
“Hi everyone, welcome back to New Zealand. On behalf of the New Zealand Government I’m in charge of organising your transportation to a Managed Isolation Facility. Today, we’re taking you to Hamilton.”
Bugger. Nothing against the Tron… but after schlepping across the states, and 13 hours over the Pacific, no one’s terribly keen for a bus trip.
Before we passed through customs, we were screened by a nurse. You know the little arrival cards where they ask if you’ve got fruit or veggies or items worth more than 10 thousand dollars? They’ve added an extra couple of pages just for Covid-19.
When we arrived at our Hamilton hotel, the army was waiting. A young captain dressed in camoflague, walked onboard the bus and explained that we’d all disembark, one by one, and be screened by another nurse. ‘I know it sucks,’ he said. ‘But it’ll be alright. You guys might not realise this, but the carpark here is one of the biggest exercise areas out of all the isolation hotels.’
A Tainui man came on and welcomed us with a waiata. ‘On the count of three, everyone say Kia Ora!’ A distinctly meek reply. ‘Come on! This is gonna be fun!’ he said. ‘We’re gonna do Zumba classes! Kia Kaha whanau’
Inside, they had trestle tables with KitKats, apples, and Whitakers Chocolate. Down the hall, there were five or six nurses set up. After each had them had finished screening a passenger, they sprayed down the chair with disinfectant.
There was a welcome pack in my bedroom. A journal. A pack of cards. And an 86-page guide to life in managed isolation.
One of our first priorities was filling out two weeks of meal requests. You get three choices for dinner and lunch. It arrives in a paper bag and someone bangs on your door. So far, it’s been great. Not Michelin starred, no. But good. Healthy enough, fresh, hot, and tasty. What have I eaten so far? Roast chicken, smoked salmon salad, chicken Caesar salad, vegetarian korma. You can order takeaways and get them delivered. My colleague had his Playstation delivered. I was walking down the hall when I saw a soldier and the hotel manager wheeling an exercise bike off to someone else’s room.
For two hours a day we’re allowed to walk laps in the carpark. The hotel only has passengers from my plane and it’s split into five different groups. So for example, my group might get walking time from 9am til 10am. And then another hour from 7 'til 8pm. First thing every morning, ten people at a time are allowed to go for a jog.
The entire perimeter of the hotel is surrounded by security fencing. There are soldiers and private security guards… and they’re sticklers for rules. We asked if we could leave a little GoPro camera at reception for one of our colleagues from the outside world to come past and collect? It would have saved us hours of work and the camera’s only the size of a lemon - it could have been disinfected with a couple of wipes. Sorry.. they said. The rules say nothing comes out. Fair enough, too.
There are all sorts of little things that many of us might not think of. You can’t get any washing done until after you’ve passed your Day Three Covid-19 test. There’s no recycling, instead you just have to put your plastic and cans in a big black bag.
One of the hotel managers told me that when we leave, it’ll take three days to do a deep clean of the whole building. Three days just to do the laundry from all of the rooms, and then they’ll have another plane load of people arriving. There are 32 hotels in New Zealand doing this right now. Until now, I don’t think I fully appreciated the logistics of the national quarantining operation.
Do I want to be in quarantine? No. Of course not. But so far I have no complaints. People are going out of their way to be incredibly hospitable and welcoming. It’s almost embarrassing. The manager of my hotel said they get an extraordinary range of people coming through. Businessmen and women, people returning home to New Zealand after years overseas, and a lot of people who are here because of bereavements. They’ve lost loved ones.
It's not like anything I’ve experienced before. Ask me again on Day 12 how I feel! It could be a Lord of the Flies situation. But even though I can’t go anywhere for a full two weeks… it feels bloody good to be home.