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Some people need to travel overseas for family – and we need to respect them

A global pandemic may still be raging, but those who must travel abroad to help suffering loved ones should be shown empathy and understanding, writes Rebecca Howard for BusinessDesk.

We pat ourselves on the back for dodging the Covid-19 bullet.

We are vaguely smug as we head to the beach, to restaurants, summer barbecues and concerts. We feel safe and secure.

We have no idea what life is like outside our closely protected borders, until we need to breach that border.

For those who have lambasted Green Party MP Ricardo Menéndez March for heading to Mexico to visit a dying relative, they have no idea what it’s like to be 10,000 miles away from someone who needs you during a pandemic.

I do.

My mother is the most independent, feisty, courageous person I know. She has a plethora of university degrees, including a PhD in archaeology. She’s backpacked around the world — literally — on a shoestring budget. She’s written cookbooks and run restaurants. She lives on a small gulf island between Vancouver and Vancouver Island called Hornby Island — think Waiheke, but smaller.

At least, she did.

Now she lives in the North Island Comox Valley Hospital. Alone.

She went to the hospital for a broken wrist and within 24 hours had a terminal cancer diagnosis, including a tumour on the brain. She’s been there for more than three weeks and hasn’t seen a single person she knows.

The hospital is closed to visitors, closed to family, closed to support. She suddenly needs to rely on strangers for help with the most basic of things. She needs to decide whether the risk of brain surgery outweighs the benefit. A raft of doctors offer advice, but she doesn’t have anyone to hold her hand.

She is alone.

She misses her cat.

She misses her home.

Getting there is no small challenge. I fully support the need for managed isolation and quarantine. I just wish it was easier to navigate.

I’m pretty calm generally. It takes a lot to rattle me. I am suddenly having panic attacks.

The only cure is to lace up my running shoes and head up Mt Kaukau in Wellington’s leafy northern suburb. And even then, I have startled other runners who come across me randomly weeping. Cancer isn’t fair. Covid-19 isn’t fair.

Going is one thing, getting back home is a whole other battle. I could just go and hope that I can get back in eventually.

Life, however, doesn’t really work that way does it? It doesn’t stop for cancer. It doesn’t stop for Covid-19.

Anyway, there is no point going immediately because I couldn’t get into the hospital to see her.

So, after talking to doctors about life expectancy, quality of life and possible treatment I thought the best option would be to go in March. I could take her home to her island for a month at least and I’d be back in New Zealand sometime in late April or early May.

Sounds simple?

I refreshed and refreshed the browser. The MIQ system opened slots for April and May and within what seemed like seconds there was only one option: May 11. I managed to grab the day and hold it for 48 hours.

I booked on Cathay Pacific for a flight that lands in Auckland on May 11. I paid for the flight. I then tried to input the data onto the MIQ system. It wasn’t possible.

I spoke to several people at MIQ over the next few days who told me that the Cathay Pacific flight doesn’t exist, that they only fly into New Zealand on Thursday and Saturday so I would need to rebook and obtain a new MIQ voucher.

That’s easier said than done. There aren’t any available until it may well be too late.

Cathay Pacific says the flight does exist and that MIQ hadn’t uploaded the data.

This went on for hours, then days and now weeks. Everyone is very polite, very friendly and very unhelpful.

Then there’s Canada. It was quite simple. I needed a negative Covid test and I could self-isolate at my brother’s house in Vancouver. It’s not easy any more.

Canada is implementing an MIQ system that requires a three-day hotel stay and has a 2,000 price tag.

The Canadian government is now asking for applications from hotels to provide this service. I hope the system is easier to use.

Meanwhile, my mother has to decide between brain surgery and radiation or just radiation.

I’m guessing she’ll opt for the former and so will head into the operating theatre without seeing a single person she knows.

I will keep trying to get there and hope no one accuses me of somehow setting a bad example for New Zealand. It’s not like it’s a holiday trip, after all.

What was it Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said?

Oh yes, “be kind.”

This article originally appeared on BusinessDesk. Their team publishes quality independent news, analysis and commentary on business, the economy and politics every day. Find out more.




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