I am self-employed and left New Zealand from New Plymouth Via Auckland on the 29th of Feb 2020 for South WA.
I was well aware of the growing situation at home and abroad.
Having turned down work in other countries due to security (Colombia), China (poor H&S), Sri Lanka (post bombing 2019), I assessed the situation and at least knew that if I had to go into lockdown it would be in a decent place.
Leaving New Zealand was easy. The airport was crowded with no testing of any kind for incoming passengers and it was busy as usual.
Perth was a very different matter, at least that is how it felt having flown there twice a year for the last 3 years.
There were more staff and some were medical with masks and associated equipment. A flight from Dubai had just landed as well and the queue through customs was slower than normal. A simple electronic passport entry for me, then down to baggage claim. Now we are normally at the first couple of carousels near the bottom of the stairs. This time we were way at the end, which now I think is great as the toilet at that end would probably be the least used and the trolleys probably cleanish! I was quickly directed through the final border control and was soon saying hello to our berated cousins across the ditch.
I stayed in Freo for a couple of nights mobilising and checking equipment and then went to the domestic airport to uplift the Master of our workboat and down to South WA. Now Fremantle was still its usual boisterous self, although when I popped into the markets late on Sunday it was very quiet.
Down to South of Perth to the usual accommodation/office and then to work, which involved a bit of interaction with the crew of two other vessels. Then the normal routine of a 6 am start for the Master and me with on-water work, followed by processing and updating the vessels from my apartment/office. All work is over the phone and via the internet unless there is an issue which requires me to go onboard.
This became a form of self-isolation as it’s all work and just a beer now and again. So when the great staff at the complex mentioned that they had doctors staying and required limited contact and would it be ok to just do door service for rubbish, towels etc that became a no brainer. This was mid-March.
Then it all started to go west as they say. No contact with crews, supervisors and other personnel flying in. Meetings and QC checks cancelled. Now, this was around and after the 15th of March.
I got a phone call from a work colleague saying book a flight and get out. I did the maths for close of work then checked online and managed to book a direct flight back Saturday 28 March. Now people are going to ask, why did you not go immediately? Well, there is the professional, finish the job thing, and that was combined with the fact that there was no space on direct flights. I mean who wants to transit through viral Sydney?
That’s two more airport terminals. Anyway, next thing, my flights were cancelled. I couldn’t get through to the call centre, and new flights were given and then had to change again as two round trips from South WA in 8 hours was dangerous (The Boat Master left on a midnight flight to Cairns). My flight was then cancelled again and then finally I got a message saying that all would be ok with a 14 day stay in Auckland.
Perth International at 1230 AM was a weird one. There were lots more staff than passengers. I think that I was the only business person. There was a whole bunch of elderly kiwis off a cruise ship that had been isolated as such for two weeks. I mean isolated in the bar and pool area! I got asked three times if I was a NZ citizen before I got to the check-in. The AirNZ staff were very emotional at the check-in and on the plane as it was the last direct flight to/from Perth for the near future. All the staff were wearing gloves and masks. There were security and staff every 20-30 metres to make sure that passengers went to the right lounge area in a deserted airport. Nothing was open and it was a long wait for my plane.
The plane was ¼ to a third full and the aircrew was great. I knew a few from previous flights and as a regular got well looked after.
When we landed in New Zealand small groups were escorted off the plane. It was a long walk through ghost town number two. There was a temperature check and the extra detailed immigration form checked, with my temp recorded in red along with a category (A-D).
As I had not been informed that there was a 12-hour window to get back home, meaning that a family member would need to drive up (5-hour max) then uplift me and drive back followed by a police check within 24 hours, I became a class C.
I went through Customs and Immigration and then the baggage X-ray machine. With KPI’s met, I then went out through lane C. I spoke to two police officers. One of them was surly and I suspect didn’t like being pulled from his desk duty to assist.
We were told to put own luggage on the bus (rear door entry) and then sit apart from everyone else (10 to 12 passengers). The bus driver entered through the front door and sat in front of the caution tape and away we went around the block into the Novatel Auckland Airport, which is a 100m walk from where we hopped on the bus.
At this point, I just wanted to go to my room and had a damn the torpedos attitude. The bus driver said one person/couple at a time and to leave in the order of how we got on the bus. Everyone got up and grabbed their bags, jostling each other whilst trying to keep apart. I just sat there enjoying the aircon, positive pressure system as the door opened awaiting my call to register. No one was helping the elderly with their bags due to the new rules to keep our physical distance.
Up I went in the lift to a conference room. We were allowed to enter one person or couple at a time. We filled in forms, answered a few questions then were given our key and sent to our room. It was all well organised to a degree. One staff member to let you in the door, one on the lift to send you up for check-in. Another in the lift for going to your room and staff that sent you to your floor. There were still lots of people wandering around though.
The last lift was reserved for staff and food etc. This was where the Kiwi “she’ll be right attitude” was obvious. Some staff wore gloves and masks or one of them or none at all. All the health staff appeared to be trainee nurses due to their youth.
Organisation wise, it was not a military operation; however, it should have been conducted along those lines. Meals are adequate. Contact is minimal and by that, I mean that there is no daily check-up. People come and go and I could walk to the supermarket but I am not allowed.
On the 2nd of April some people were leaving and one member of the defence force arrived. The security guards and the police officer appear to have moved on. From what I can discern there are four types of people here:
(1) Cruise ship passengers, (2) Workers (FIFO) which includes me, (3) Kiwis returning but not coming home. I think they came back to New Zealand because of the no benefit rule in Australia, although apparently the PM in Australia has taken his scolding and relented (just for kiwis /sarc). And (4) Residents sneaking back in.
Due to isolation rules on arrival, which I agree with, there has been no thought to FIFO requirements and even specialised crew/personnel on offshore vessels etc. I am one of those. If there is a contract offshore in the dreaded oil & gas area off New Plymouth, crew will have to fly in, isolate for 14 days minimum and then undertake the contract. Possibly isolate for 14 days when coming ashore and then fly and isolate in their own country.
I have been contacted for work to fill that billet. I will need to go offshore, come home, isolate for 14 days and then be available for the next short notice fill in. However, I have to isolate for 2 days beyond the next trip out i.e. next Friday. The 21 odd days in Australia on self-isolation doesn’t count because I mingled with others allowed to return, albeit at a distance, so I am one of the unclean.
Now I understand this to a degree, however, I am a smart bugger and being ex-military can follow instructions well. This has lead to a solid isolation regime. I had to do the squeaky wheel thing and filled out a form this morning for those who may be infected, which I hope is the start of clearance. I am now onto day four and the first three days for temp, swab etc are all empty.
No disrespect, but government departments and the police are not really suited for this. Yes, they should have an advisory role, however the military practice stuff like this. They understand triage and NBCD drills and have organisational skills.
And finally the response has not been go early and hard. Any man and his dog can see it was in the too hard basket for some people and there was an agenda.
On a final note, there are still people arriving. There have been buses and flights with approximately 30 trolleys stacked up in the last 24 hours. There are lots of planes parked up.
Keep safe and well.
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