Two-week trip to New Zealand turns into seven-month Covid holiday

It was supposed to be a two-week trip to New Zealand - just 14 days away from Australia for a holiday. Today, seven months after Deccy Ledezma and her daughter Bledys Tunon left this country, they finally came home. The duo arrived at Sydney airport in the first flight of Australia and New Zealand's new quarantine-free "bubble" travel arrangement.

Qantas will operate two flights a week from New Zealand, with hundreds of passengers still due to each day.

"We've been overseas in New Zealand for seven months - we thought we'd never make it back, oh my God!" Derccy Ledezma said, fighting back tears. "Thankfully, we don't need to quarantine. It's just so good to be back."

Derccy's husband, Neil, said he had been counting down the days until he could finally see his family again. "Two hundred and seven nights, that's how long they were gone. They'd only gone for two weeks, and then got stuck."

It was a day of high emotion at the international terminal as stories of reunited families echoed in its empty halls. Hundreds of arriving passengers were relieved to be able to come home and not have to enter hotel quarantine for two weeks. Most of the passengers were returning family members, with the airport once again hosting scenes of unbridled joy.

Juliet Robertson held her daughter tightly, tears welling up, as she told reporters how she was feeling. "Ecstatic, euphoric. I miss her so much." She said she jumped at the opportunity to return to Australia and was hoping to head to Canberra next, to see her sick sister.

"It was like a miracle when they opened the borders here, because now I don't have to quarantine, I can go and see her straight away."

Two-week trip to New Zealand turns into seven-month Covid holiday

Caitlyn Hosking was there with an old friend to surprise her mother, Jodie, whom she hadn't seen in months. They held each other for minutes, wiping tears away and laughing together again. "The flight was packed, there were around 250 people on there," Jodie said. "Everybody was on their best behaviour, it was a bit like being in school - everyone is sitting there in their masks, making sure they have the correct bits of paper."

Asked how she felt seeing her daughter and friend once again, Jodie beamed. "It's amazing, they look gorgeous!" The ABC later reported that 14 travellers from New Zealand were detained at Melbourne airport on Friday afternoon after catching a connecting flight from Sydney. Victoria police referred an inquiry to the Victorian health department which did not immediately respond.

Australian Border Force told Guardian Australia that inquiries should be referred to the Victorian authorities. New Zealand citizens and residents are only permitted to travel to New South Wales and the Northern Territory under the trans-Tasman flight arrangements. Other states have not yet signed up to the bubble.

Victoria is only just reaching the end of its second wave of Covid-19 cases with two new cases reported on Friday and 157 active cases in total. Every other state and territory in Australia currently has strict restrictions on visitors from Victoria, with two weeks of hotel quarantine required for those who have spent time in the state in the past 14 days. The New South Wales tourism minister, Stuart Ayres, was on hand to welcome the passengers into Sydney and drew a cinematic comparison.

"It's been quite an emotional day, like living in a scene from the movie Love Actually." Ayres said the day was an important moment in the country's battle against Covid-19. "We want to make sure that we can keep making strong progress in opening our borders where it's safe to do so."

Two-week trip to New Zealand turns into seven-month Covid holiday

Three flights from New Zealand were arriving at Sydney airport throughout the day, bringing hundreds of passengers. The arrangement so far only allows one-way flights from New Zealand with Australians not permitted to travel in the other direction.

Ayres said any changes to that would have to come at the New Zealand government's discretion and possibly after the election this weekend. "We'd love to see that happen as soon as possible," he said.

You may also like...