A former Steinbach family endured two weeks of self-isolation in a hotel, but is now living a life free of strict COVID-19 restrictions in New Zealand.
Dan Hungerford, who grew up in New Zealand, moved to Steinbach in December of 2009. After living in the Automobile City for nearly 11 years, Hungerford took his young family and moved back to his motherland this last September. Hungerford says planning a move during a pandemic was not the easiest.
Hungerford says New Zealand has very intense COVID-19 restrictions, requiring travellers who enter the country to self-isolate for 14 days in a hotel before they can move about freely. But, that means the Hungerfords could not leave for New Zealand until there was space in a hotel used for quarantine.
"So I had to wait for my turn to be able to book a ticket," he explains. "I booked a ticket, then all their flights across Canada cancelled a week before we left."
The Hungerfords were left scrambling but eventually booked their flights. He describes the airports as ghost towns. Travellers and airport staff did everything possible not to touch each other and everyone wore masks.
Hungerford says they arrived in Auckland without knowing where they would spend their 14 day self-isolation. In fact, he says they could have been sent to Christchurch, more than 1,000 kilometres away. But, to their delight, they were told that a bus would shuttle them to their hotel in Auckland.
The Hungerfords were given two adjoining rooms, and that became their world for the next two weeks. The family of four was delivered three meals per day and told not to leave their rooms unless they were going for a scheduled walk on the rooftop or down below where the cars park.
Fourteen days later, the Hungerfords needed to provide a nose swab and then they were free to leave. Hungerford calls it "the weirdest feeling," to go from being under the watchful eye of armed forces to suddenly being allowed to do whatever you want.
"We had a few tears, me and my wife as we came out and we got to the car," says Hungerford. "It was such a crazy feeling to finally get through all of that."
These extreme restrictions have helped New Zealand, with a population of about five million people, bring their COVID-19 count to only a few new cases each day.
Hungerford says it truly feels like they have stepped back in time. He notes it is like the summer before the pandemic crippled the world.
"Domestic flights are happening, you don't see anyone wearing masks out here, everyone is at the beach," he says.
But, Hungerford admits it is hard to talk about his freedom when he knows what friends and family are enduring back home in Steinbach.
"Even posting what we've been able to do here, the freedoms and stuff, posting that online I get nervous every time I press post," says Hungerford. "I don't want anyone feeling envious of it or feeling sad about the situation."
Hungerford says being an island certainly makes it easier to close their borders. But, he says closed borders can also drive up prices.
Meanwhile, Jullius Malama and his family lived in Steinbach for nearly 10 years working with Island Breeze. T
he Malama family moved back to Australia two years ago, just prior to the pandemic.
Though Australia's COVID-19 restrictions have been strict at times, residents now have many of their freedoms back.