‘We have accepted we aren’t coming home soon’ – Hitchin traveller on NZ coronavirus lockdown

Tabitha Faria-Softly was travelling in New Zealand when she was stranded as a result of the coronavi

Tabitha Faria-Softly was travelling in New Zealand when she was stranded as a result of the coronavirus lockdown measures. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

A young woman from Hitchin looks set to be stranded thousands of miles from home for the foreseeable future as international travel continues to be clamped down amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Almost a year ago, former Hitchin Girls’ School pupil Tabitha Faria-Softly left the UK for the trip of a lifetime.

Since then, the 20–year–old has worked in hostels, visited the Australian outback, explored Malaysian islands, toured New Zealand with new friends and made memories that will stay with her forever.

Just a few weeks ago, she was thinking about how she would celebrate her 21st with friends back in Hertfordshire, and looking forward to seeing the family she last saw nearly 12 months previously.

But, as the New Zealand government prepares to initiate a level 4 lockdown today – meaning only essential shops are open and everyone must self–isolate where possible – the chances of Tabby returning home are getting slimmer.

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Now, she is stuck in an Auckland hostel’s cheapest room, where she says it’s “chaos” as sometimes there are almost 50 people in close proximity with each other.

Tabby said: “At the moment it’s really hard and a horrible situation. I’m here by myself but I have grouped up with a few other Brits who are also stuck here.

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“New Zealand has been a bit of a bubble during this whole outbreak, especially compared to what we heard from friends and family back in the UK.

“With the 13-hour time difference we would hear and read things when we woke up, and it’s been difficult at times to keep in touch with family. But, I’m trying to stay positive and so are my friends.”

Hearing the widespread panic, Tabby went to the nearest airport on Sunday to try and catch any flight that would take her home.

She was told by airport staff that there would be flights leaving the next morning, paid for a hotel room, and woke up three hours early to start queueing for her ticket – which could have cost her up to £2,000 – back to the UK.

By 8am on Monday morning, Tabby left the airport with nothing more than a leaflet, explaining all flights were cancelled and what would be happening in the country in the coming days.

Her mother, Joanna, is naturally worried about her daughter but has been in touch with everyone from New Zealand Prime Minister’s office to the British High Commission, and is holding onto the hope that Tabby will be home soon.

She added: “She’s very resourceful and capable but she’s only 20 and travelling on her own.

“I’m concerned that once the lockdown period begins, the true reality of staying in a hostel for a month with only very limited time outside, will suddenly hit her.

“Mostly, my fear is that she gets the virus – a terrifying thought with her so far away, more so as her travel insurance runs out soon as she was due to fly home.”

“She is naturally very stressed and worried about her elderly grandmother who has underlying health issues and about me, as I’m classed as a protected group. She’s scared that we will get ill. Or worse.”

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