24 Jun 2020

'It's not so kind ' - rise in hostility towards NZers looking to come home

6:06 pm on 24 June 2020

New Zealanders overseas have noticed a rise in hostility to those having to make the decision to return home, a departure from the kindness the country has been encouraged to show.

Air New Zealand plane.

Air New Zealand plane. Photo: Supplied / Air NZ

Now with daily cases being caught in isolation facilities and high numbers of New Zealanders returning home, those returning feel less welcome than ever.

Some people online have called for flights from global hotspots to be scrapped completely, to limit the numbers of those returning home, or that they should pay the entire quarantine cost.

Clint Heine, who has been in the UK for more than a decade, said he has noticed more anti-returnee sentiment the past couple of weeks.

"From certain elements on social media and the press, no, it's not so kind."

He runs the 80,000 strong Kiwis in London Facebook group, and is well connected in the city.

Heine said comments they have seen online - from people he calls keyboard warriors - have been inhospitable towards New Zealanders coming home.

"The good headlines of having no cases - which is now five, six, seven cases - has made some people feel anxious. Unfortunately they seem to be directing it to some people coming in," Heine said.

"We're hearing from a few people that they're now more concerned about coming home if they're going to expect this kind of reaction when they arrive."

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Simon Hampton has been a freelance journalist based in New York for three years. He said he would prefer to stay, and continue his life in New York - and so do most people he knows - so deciding to come home is not something he is doing for fun.

"I'm one of a number of people that are coming home out of necessity ... The people that have stayed in New York for this long, for four months now, don't want to leave. They've stuck it out. So if they're planning to come home at this point, it's really because they have to come home - it's not people coming for a holiday," Hampton said.

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Back in London, Rachel Barker is working in TV, but is flying back to New Zealand in a few weeks' time. She still has work and a flat there, and like Hampton, would prefer to stay. But she has an auto-immune disease which would be seriously complicated if she contracted coronavirus.

She's been isolating, but with the UK trying to return to normal, she cannot just get on with life like some others will.

"There's just no way that I feel safe staying here. I can go to a pub or go to work, but my health is not stable enough that I'd feel confident that I wouldn't be affected by Covid. The thought of being back in New Zealand is incredibly exciting."

Cabinet will consider making those returning pay a portion of the hotel quarantine costs. So far they have spent about $80 million on returnees' accommodation.

Hampton said he would understand if a payment was looked at on a case-by-case basis but some people simply could not stump up.

"Maybe there's an avenue there where they could justify charging people for some of that cost. But I think you have to remember that a lot of people are coming home having lost jobs, having had to break leases on property, they're already under a bit of financial pressure, so to slap them with another bill will be quite hard on them," Hampton said.

The government is considering a co-payment scheme in the next few weeks. If that goes ahead there might be an even greater rush than the country has seen in the last few weeks to beat the deadline, which may put pressure on isolation facilities.

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