Ian Martin has returned from a trip to Fiji with a warning. PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

ARTHUR HAWKES
arthur.hawkes@age.co.nz

Ian Martin had a dream holiday planned.

He and his wife were going to Fiji to experience the best of the island paradise.

Fast forward four days: they’re back in Gladstone, having just made it on the last flight out of the Pacific nation.

They’re now self-isolating, protecting their neighbours from potential infection with covid-19; it’s a virus they think Kiwis hadn’t been taking seriously enough, prior to the government’s recent border lockdown.

While wary of the global pandemic, Martin assumed that the government would prohibit travel if it was unsafe, and proceeded, perhaps naively, to Fiji.

Despite the disruptions to the aviation industry, he and his wife assumed that the exception to Pacific Island travel that had been in place meant that the countries were still safe, and that they were still able to go. A reasonable assumption.

What they experienced in Fiji was in stark contrast to the normality they felt had been projected by domestic TV news.

“We get over there, and there’s no tourism coming in the place, there’s no people coming in, the place is dead.

“And we were there two days and then they go: ‘Right you’ve got to get out of there, we’ve got the last flight going out tomorrow and you’ve got to get on it’. So, we were just thinking: ‘what’s going on?’”

The only flights out were going to Auckland, not Wellington, leaving the couple frantically checking flight carriers operating services out of our northernmost city.

“At the borders, there seemed to be a lot of people who didn’t seem to be taking it at all seriously,” Martin said, a little dismayed. “I don’t know if everyone fully understands.

“You have to go through a government checkpoint and answer all these questions, and then they just let you go.

“And once you’re through the gate, the airport was putting out notices asking to please stand a metre away from people, asking them to self-isolate.

“But how can you self-isolate in an airport full of people? You’d sit down somewhere on your own, and people would sit next to you.

“And then you leave the airport and get back on a plane full of people.”

Now crowded in with numerous different groups returning from Fiji, in a packed airport swamped with cancellations, with many of these people, Martin included, continuing on to different areas of New Zealand from Auckland, the lack of ability to control anti-viral measures became palpable for the Carterton residents.

“My main concern is that I don’t believe New Zealanders have gotten to grips with how serious this is.

“I just don’t. It is a big deal, and I don’t know why our government didn’t shut the border two weeks ago.

“They must have known more, they must have done. They should’ve shut it. Not let us out and back in again.

“On Fijian TV, everywhere they had it on, their stations were telling you what was going on in the rest of the world. We saw more on their TV than what we were seeing on the TV at home.

“A lot of stuff was almost all about the virus: Fiji had its first case when we were there, it was discovered in Lautoka. I believe it’s their second biggest town. They’ve shut it down. The whole town is shut down, isolated. because of that one person! And I think: ‘good on ‘em. They did well’.”

Martin’s experience is a cautionary tale, shedding a light on a potential disconnect between the message provided by some sections of New Zealand’s domestic TV news and the seriousness of the Covid-19 crisis.

This is not business as usual, and, for a number of people, the seriousness of this statement hasn’t been made apparent.

He concludes with a message to his fellow Kiwis: “If I can say something to local people, please just be careful”.