Anxious moments at the border but all works out

Going on holiday is always exciting — but for the first time in her life Otago Daily Times reporter Luisa Girao  never wished so badly not to be away.
I am originally from Brazil. Since moving away, I have spent my holidays there, visiting family and friends.

When I planned my most recent trip with my husband, Thiago de Freitas, I could never imagine Covid-19 would change everything.

I left New Zealand on March 6. At this stage Brazil and New Zealand were in the same situation in relation to the outbreak: only three cases were confirmed.

Before I left, my boss and I chatted about whether I should cancel my trip.

The outbreak was largely in China and Italy, so we thought everything would be fine.

Things intensified in the two weeks I was away from Invercargill.

Countries closed borders, the number of people infected increased and people everywhere fell into panic.

While in Brazil, I was in my hometown, Rio. It is a town of beautiful beaches, nice people, and a relaxing atmosphere — but this time, the town of four million people was practically a ghost town.

No traffic, just few people on the beaches and the hugs and kisses — the way we usually greet each other — were gone altogether.

Every day, I checked the news with my heart in my mouth. My only thought was ‘‘please, don’t close the borders to New Zealand’’.

I was relieved when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced overseas arrivals needed to self-isolate. At least I could return.

My bosses, colleagues and friends comforted me and offered help.

In few minutes, I had everything sorted, including who would buy me food and who would drop a car for me at the airport.

We also called Air New Zealand, as our domestic flight from Auckland was at night and we would land there at 5am.

We wanted to make sure our self-isolation plan was safe and correct.

We spent several hundreds of dollars to get an earlier flight.

And on Thursday, or Wednesday in Brazil, we were ready to return to Southland via Santiago and Auckland.

I was in the air when the Government announced the border would close. I heard the news when we landed, and I started to shake — literally.

I’m on a work visa: did that mean I would not be able to return? After a 20-hour journey, would I be sent back to Brazil?

People around me were nervous and emotional. They spoke loudly about their fears. The fear spread.

But I was confident if we had to go back someone would tell us before we landed. My experience with New Zealand has been pretty good so far — people have always been honest and had a clear direction in such situations.

Off the plane, I joined a big line of people. My heart beat harder than ever. Was this the moment I would be sent back to Brazil?

No. Officials were checking our arrival cards to make sure we had Covid-19 information and if we were aware of the restrictions.

At another big line, Ministry of Health staff checked if we had a place to be isolated.

I was given written information about self-isolation, and a telephone number to call if I felt any symptoms.

I had drawn up a plan including the contact numbers of people who would help and how I would arrive in Invercargill without coming into contact with anyone. Nothing was asked about this. They wanted to know if I was aware of the rules and the situation.

At passport control, an official asked if I had a self-isolation plan. I was told I could be deported if I failed to comply with the rules.

No worries, man. I was definitely aware of everything and I would follow all the rules and recommendations to keep this country safe.

When I heard the sound of stamp on my passport, I felt relief.

In less than one hour, I was in.

I still can’t believe I was one of the last few people to get through.

In a matter of hours, the story may have been different.

While I think I could have been asked more specific questions about my self-isolation plan, I think one of the best things about this country is the trust it has in its people.

After this experience, I can say, I have never felt so great for choosing New Zealand as my home.

The support and love I received from my friends made me grateful to be in this beautiful land. Now, finally at home, I thank everyone for their Kiwi spirit.

Let the self-isolation begin and I hope the situation is controlled soon, so New Zealand may again receive the international community with its open arms — as always.


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