Nine thousand and eight hundred kilometres [9,800km] is the distance between the two places- Wuhan to Niue. But that distance is beginning to look a lot closer today as our remote little island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean come to terms with the effects of the global Covid 19 virus outbreak. The island is still free from the dreaded corona-virus but how long it can remain so is anyone’s guess.
Each week in the early afternoon on a Friday, Hanan Airport comes alive in anticipation of the arrival of an Air New Zealand flight from Auckland. The departure and arrival concourse, in addition to its usual function, has become also a great meeting place for family and friends. And apart from indulgent parents who allow their little brats to outdo each other in racing the luggage trolleys, there is usually a happy and festive atmosphere. There is the excitement in greeting family members and friends. There is the usual tearful farewell for those who have made their homes in New Zealand and beyond but, this is tampered in the knowledge that the ancestral home is but a few hours away. But not today; today was something different.
The usual hustle and bustle was no longer there; the smiles can still be seen, but the laughter had gone. The mood at the concourse can best be described as sombre and subdued. For the few passengers leaving, in what could well be the last flight for a while, there was none of this elbow-contact stuff but a full and firm hug; the handshake was a little firmer than usual and the silent tears were flowing just a little too freely. The corona-virus has added a new meaning to our Polynesian farewell.
Arriving passengers were fore-warned that there were to be changes on the arrival procedures. The first of these was that passengers were permitted to disembark but only in groups of ten at pre-determined intervals. This was to ensure that there was no congestion through immigration, customs and security and with the arrangement for transportation. There’s to be no usual greeting; no kahoa; no hugs; no high-fives, nothing.
At the greeting area, passengers were told by the Police to leave their luggage with family. They were then directed to board a mini-bus that will take them to the Niue Golf Club. Waiting at the Club House was Minister Billy Talagi, a team from Public Health and other government officials, ready to give a briefing.
Meantime back at the arrival concourse at Hanan Airport, parents of children studying at the University of the South Pacific in Suva were anxiously waiting. When the students did emerge, there was a muffled little kalaga from someone, but there was definitely no denying the visible relief on the faces of waiting parents.
Back at the Niue Golf Club, two options were available for the arrivals – one was for self-isolation at home and the other was to self-isolate at Matavai Apartments. It’s understood that Namukulu Cottages is also being used but it’s no known how many are staying there. According to Matavai management 18 people elected to use the Matavai Apartments. The rest are opting to isolate for the next 14 days at home. The cost for the Apartments, which is for the roof and a bed only, will be picked up by government. All other costs, such as daily servicing and laundry and food, will be the responsibility of the temporary guests. All passengers, irrespective of whether at home or at Matavai Apartments or Namukulu Cottages have received a full briefing ranging from personal hygiene to relieving cabin-fever. All passengers will be in isolation for 14 days.
For the time being there’s no more to be done. The island is as prepared as it will ever be with measures ready for the next level of the virus.
Meantime, Scenic Matavai has only four guests remaining, all of whom are not New Zealand citizens according to General Manager Mathew Brettell. They are from Australia, Germany, Britain and the United States. As Auckland Airport is the only port of call from Niue, the four will have to wait until such time as the New Zealand government lifts the current restrictions that only NZ citizens can enter.