Stuck in isolation . . . Reporter Helen Holt and her partner Sam Guerin were told they had to isolate after getting back from a tramp. PHOTO: COURIER STAFF

Courier reporter Helen Holt was looking forward to having her Wellington-based boyfriend stay for the weekend. Neither were expecting the visit to lead to a 10-day stint in isolation.

A weekend getaway out of civilisation completely changed when we got back into phone coverage.

My boyfriend Sam and I went on a tramp in the Hakatere Conservation Park on Saturday. Our long-distance relationship (him in Wellington, me in Timaru for work) meant we hadn’t seen each other for three weeks, so this was a trip to spend quality time together without distractions such as phone coverage.

We stayed overnight in a creekside hut – a gorgeous location, considering the trek from the car park had been four hot hours of tussock, zero shade and a few unwelcome bramble bushes.

The four-hour tramp there meant, consequently, a four-hour tramp back. We arrived back at the car on Sunday afternoon hot, sticky, thirsty and caffeine-deprived, and keen to get back into phone coverage to let our families know we were safe. Sam would be catching his flight back to Wellington on Monday.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 had something else planned.

We drove towards Mt Somers and suddenly my phone pinged.

A text from my workmate asking which flight Sam caught on Friday, accompanied by a screenshot of a Facebook post from the South Canterbury District Health Board: Covid-19 case on Air New Zealand flight – Wellington to Timaru.

She wasn’t the only one who’d got in touch – my Messenger app was filled with friends and colleagues messaging me.

Sam’s phone did not get one message. The airline did not contact him about the case, nor did the contact-tracers. If my colleagues hadn’t spammed my messages, we would not know that he had to isolate, that I – and my flatmate – would also have to isolate.

What if we had been tourists, out-of-towners who weren’t subscribed to South Canterbury social media pages?

It crossed Sam’s mind to “play dumb” to make his flight the next day, as he hadn’t received any instruction to isolate. He had a flight booked back to Wellington on Monday morning, his work laptop was still in Wellington and his work ute was parked at expensive Wellington Airport ($65 for three days). If he asked for a Covid-19 test, he would then be required to stay in Timaru for 10 days, and the car park would charge at least $125.

Getting a test was not a simple process. We had only just come back from an overnight tramp so we had priorities other than sitting in a car park for an hour before a nurse in a hazmat suit stuck a barge pole up Sam’s nose.

Although I had been writing Covid-19 stories for months – about vacinations, cases, locations of interest and testing – I still found the process required to get a test incredibly confusing.

We drove to the testing station listed by the district health board to find out about getting a test. We rang the number on the door five times with no answer. It was 4pm, but the website said it was open until 4.30pm.

  • NOTE: Helen’s chief reporter has to confess here to having managed to screenshot and send outdated information to her – the testing clinic actually closed at 4pm on Sunday.

I took the initiative to walk into the after-hours practice, and made eye contact with the receptionist. She walked towards me.

“Can I help you?” she said.

My answer forced her to step back and tell me to get back into my car and ring the practice.

“I’ve called it five times with no answer” was my reply.

“Sorry, we’ve been flat-out with the exposure event,” she said.

I got back in the car and we waited for a call from a nurse. Several minutes passed as Sam was wishing he had just pretended not to see the messages so he could make the flight home.

The nurse eventually came out in her shining armour. Test done, we ask what happened next. Did I have to isolate? I wasn’t given a concrete answer.

I find out much later that night with a call from Healthline that I did have to isolate.

My flatmate – a teacher looking forward to setting up her classroom ready for the new school year – also had to isolate.

Sam is stuck in Timaru. My flatmate and I are stuck at home trying to work with limited equipment.

As of Tuesday, Sam’s first test was negative. My flatmate and I can escape these four walls if his day-5 test is also negative, but Sam has to stay put for 10 days from exposure, until his third test on Saturday comes back.

If that’s negative, he’s free to head back to Wellington on Monday, a full week later than planned.

Although bored and cooped up, we’re lucky to have a moderately well-stocked pantry and friends who have offered to deliver supplies.

Roll on two more negative test results.

  • As at Thursday, Helen’s test result came back negative, so she no longer has to isolate, nor does her flatmate. Sam is required to continue isolating until he has a (hopefully) negative result from his final test on Saturday.