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‘Bawled my eyes out’: tears and cheers of New Zealanders free to head home | New Zealand

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New Zealanders stranded overseas and desperate to return home have shed tears of relief they will soon be able to skip the country’s managed isolation system. But for many the news is bittersweet as they still face another summer separated from loved ones, amid anger that a decision did not come sooner.

The country will reopen its borders to vaccinated visitors in the opening months of 2022, for the first time since the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced their snap closure in the first month of the Covid-19 pandemic. The country’s borders have been closed to unrestricted travel for more than a year and a half.

The border will initially open to New Zealand citizens and visa holders coming from Australia, then from the rest of the world, and finally to all other vaccinated visitors from the end of April. They will still have to self-isolate at home for a week, but will no longer have to pass through the country’s expensive and space-limited managed isolation facilities.

“As soon as I read the date of 13 Feb 2022 for no more [managed isolation] for Kiwis from ‘higher risk’ locations I began to bawl my eyes out,” Lara Iriarte said. Iriarte left New Zealand for what was supposed to be a short trip in February 2020, but became stuck in Panama City as the pandemic developed and New Zealand’s borders closed. She said she is still in Central America and has not seen her only son since January last year.

Sherryl Clark, who is in Victoria, Australia said: “To hear that we will not have to do the seven days in [managed isolation] is such brilliant news.

“We have been trying to move back to New Zealand for over 12 months, and it feels like our life has been on interminable hold. Not just with New Zealand restrictions on entry, but lockdowns in Victoria, which have meant selling our house and getting organised has been also held up for month after month.”

Clark said she attempted to secure a spot in the managed isolation lottery six times, and eventually won a spot when the government changed the isolation requirements to seven days from 14 November.

“Even so, the delays have meant realistically we had to choose a February date, so I have missed two funerals of loved ones, my sister’s 70th and of course my first Christmas with my family for more than 15 years,” Clark said.

Lisa Stella said her husband, who works in Hong Kong, has been trying to get home since June and has made seven attempts at securing a spot in the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system. “Nine minutes after hearing the news, my husband who works abroad had a ticket from Hong Kong to New Zealand.”

But for many New Zealanders, the government’s strict border controls and challenging managed isolation system have permanently damaged its reputation.

“For me [the announcement] is absolutely useless and I find the ongoing restrictions completely over the top. New Zealand will be 90% vaccinated, so is Australia. It’s time to move on and stop destroying the economy and keeping families apart, and denying New Zealand citizens their rights to return and leave their country,” Vanessa Freeman said.

Freeman, a New Zealand citizen based in Melbourne, is desperate to get home and see family over summer. “We can’t go home over the holidays, when working people could conceivably have the time of work to do the seven days in isolation and still actually see their loved ones.

“My son is very close to his cousins in New Zealand, my mum is elderly and not well, and I am pretty done in emotionally after the last two years. I want to spend Christmas with my loved ones, to recover and recharge.”

Freeman said she had initially supported the government’s pandemic response and voted for Labour in the 2020 election, but said: “[Now] they have lost me, and my family.”

For others the idea of New Zealand as “home” has been called into question. Ian Fenn, who is based in Austria, said he was shocked New Zealand could “so easily lock out its own citizens” and said of the border announcement: “I think it is well overdue but my trust in my home country and New Zealanders has forever been changed, for the worse.”

Sharelle Govignon-Sweet said: “I didn’t even jump for joy. The damage has been done, with regards to my feelings toward ‘home’ and what that means to me now.

“Simply put, our nation locked us out and the populace stayed quiet on that, which alludes to there being a tacit agreement between the two. Teamed with a lack of empathy or compassion for what those of us locked out went through, I have forever been changed by all this.”

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