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Isolation stories: 53 days of life in lockdown

Published: 27 May 2020

Of the more than 10,000 people who have spent time in managed isolation or quarantine in Auckland, Hamiltonian Tyler Parker is something of an outlier. 

For the vast majority of people returning to New Zealand, 14 days is the most they’ll spend in managed isolation or quarantine.  When Tyler arrived in New Zealand at the end of April, he’d already spent 39 days in isolation.  By the end of his stay in Auckland, he had clocked up a total of 53 days, in three different countries.

Whether he wants it or not, he can probably lay claim to the title of ‘most time spent in isolation’.

Tyler’s story begins in January when he was planning his next big trip.  A surfer and a foodie, Tyler had his sights set on Peru.  “It has the longest wave in the world and for the last seven years has been named the world’s top culinary destination,” says Tyler. “It was a no brainer.”

Tyler was due to fly to Lima on 4 March. COVID-19 was starting to become headline news, but flights had so far been unaffected. He did, however, check with his travel agent before he left.

“They gave me the thumbs up, so I flew from Auckland to Australia and then onto Chile. I was pickpocketed in the airport there and lost my wallet, bank cards and cash. I was so close to going back to Auckland at that point but luckily, I had a cash passport in my suitcase, so decided to press on.” 

Tyler spent his first few days in Lima, making the most of the surf and food.  He had planned a trip to Machu Picchu and on his ninth day, headed to Cusco.

“I checked into my hotel, had a shower and headed out for dinner. While I was eating dinner, I noticed on Instagram that my friend’s sister, Marla was also in Cusco. She was a few hundred metres away, so after dinner we went to a pub to have a drink.

“We were having a good time – catching up, drinking beer – when the president announced live on TV that the country was now in lockdown. Everyone was instructed to return home, with tourists advised they had 18 hours to leave Peru. 

“The pub closed straightaway but as we were heading back to our hotels, we saw an Irish bar was still open, so we decided to have one last beer. There were about 10 of us in there, singing and having a good time. All of a sudden, armed soldiers entered the bar and it was clear that we needed to leave.  Marla and I agreed to meet at her hotel at 6am to figure out how we were going to get to Lima and back to New Zealand.”

The pair headed to the airport, where police and the military were out in force.  “Neither of us had tickets, but a shady guy dressed in leather offered us flights.  He initially asked for $500 but the price quickly jumped to $800. We eventually paid $400 for what was basically a piece of paper, but it did the trick and got us back to Lima.

Lockdown in Lima

“By the time we got there, both Australia and New Zealand had closed their borders, so we were trapped in Peru. We found beds at a hostel where we were under curfew at night – being caught outside meant 14 days in jail. While we were there, the hostel was raided by police carrying guns. It was a scary time. Guests in our hostel had seen dead bodies on the street – we were told they had died from COVID-19.”

Tyler and Marla spent 28 days in Lima before getting a flight back to Australia.  “When we got on the flight, we didn’t know where in Australia the flight was headed,” Tyler explains, “but we eventually landed in Brisbane.

“On arrival, we had a health check, were put on a bus and taken to the hotel. We were allowed out one by one, on the roof for a short time each day.  During my time there, I lost five kilos.

Homeward bound

After 10 days, Tyler got the news he had been waiting for – there was a flight back to New Zealand.  “I was so excited. When I got to Brisbane Airport, I was the only passenger there. It was weird. Even weirder was the fact that I was the only passenger on the plane.  But the flight was amazing - the crew were so friendly and gave me all the food I wanted.” 

Following his health check on arrival, Tyler was taken to a hotel in Auckland city centre. “The hotel was amazing. We were allowed to go on walks with customs officers every day and had an outdoor area, but of course, we had to be two metres apart.”

Tyler’s eventful trip doesn’t end there.  On his 11th day in managed isolation, a headache and slightly raised temperature saw him transferred to a quarantine hotel.  “Obviously, I didn’t want to go there, but I did the three days, did the test and now I’m free!”

Now back in Hamilton, Tyler says that while his experience hasn’t put him off travelling, he’s happy sticking closer to home for the time being.  “I’m not travelling until the world is fixed.  My trip was definitely an experience I can tick off the list.  But I don’t want to do it again!”

Auckland Emergency Management

Auckland Emergency Management’s COVID-19 response was mobilised in February and is the single biggest operation Auckland Council’s emergency management department has ever coordinated.

Much of the work has focused on the welfare of Aucklanders – ensuring that they have the support they need during the nationwide lockdown and beyond.

Alongside this, a significant part of AEM’s response to COVID-19 has been the coordination of the regional isolation and quarantine operation, which saw Tyler isolated in an Auckland hotel.

Read more about AEM's quarantine and isolation work here.

Read more: COVID-19

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