Coronavirus: Man's warning to Kiwis thinking of international travel after 'COVID nightmare'

A man has issued a warning to fellow New Zealanders looking to pack their bags and head overseas, describing his trip as a "COVID nightmare" and like "dodging bullets". 

High school teacher Mark Saunders found out at the end of November that his mother - who he had not seen in seven years - was rushed to hospital with an incurable form of thyroid cancer which had spread to her lungs. He was told she only had weeks to live. 

Saunders is a British and New Zealand citizen but has been living in New Zealand for nearly 17 years. He moved to his mother's native Germany when he was seven before emigrating here in 2005. 

The "nightmare" started when Saunders made the decision to rush over to Germany.

"It was tough because I knew I had to go over because I didn't know how long she had. I just knew I needed to be back in time for the new school year, so I left not really knowing when I would be coming back," Saunders told Newshub. 

"So that was hard. I tried to do the MIQ thing before I left but I wasn't successful so I took my chances because I had to go." 

Saunders said getting flights was easy, but organising a pre-departure test prior to boarding his flight was a "real problem". The current rules for people flying into Germany state that a test must have been carried out no more than 72 hours prior to entry.

"Getting flights wasn't a problem, that was easy. It was actually trying to organise pre-flight testing," he explained. "When you think the flight is 36 hours, that was a real problem."

Once Saunders arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, he visited his mother in the hospital taking the appropriate measures to keep her safe. But he said life was very different over there. 

"We are so fortunate in New Zealand, it's a different world. The first thing that struck me was that everybody is wearing masks everywhere and every street corner seems to have a testing centre," he said. 

"Before you can go into any sort of restaurant or anything like that you have to show evidence of a negative rapid antigen test. It is very strict over there."

He then travelled to Manchester to visit family for a week but his trip was caught short when Germany imposed a travel ban on everyone arriving from the UK.  

Saunders said the issue with travelling in a COVID environment is you can only base your plans around the current regulations, which can change at any moment. 

"The thing about travelling at this time is you can only base your plans on whatever the regulations are at the time," he explains.

"The problem was I was meant to stay for a week in the UK - but then all of sudden, after four days, Germany decided to close the border to all UK arrivals, so I had to cut my trip in the UK short. 

"All the flights flying directly to Germany were fully booked before the deadline so I had no other choice to fly to Switzerland, stay overnight and then fly into Frankfurt before the deadline hit, so otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to fly into Germany at all."

Once he scrambled his way back into Germany, Saunders' bad luck continued. He'd been staying with family friends when one of their kids tested positive for COVID and he ended up getting the virus as well. 

"One of the sons there wasn't feeling very well and I just thought he's probably got a cold, and then all of sudden his mother said he has just tested positive for COVID," Saunders said. 

"This was on January 2 and I was due to fly out [for New Zealand] on January 5, so I immediately packed my stuff and moved out so I didn't risk not being able to fly because MIQ places are quite hard to get. 

"I tested negative twice, and then the next morning on January 3 I tested positive, so I knew I couldn't come home."

Luckily for Saunders, MIQ re-booked his hotel room for when he completed his isolation period in Germany and arrived back in New Zealand on Friday. 

Saunders warned any Kiwis thinking about travelling overseas to "think very carefully" before going and to expect "a few things to go wrong". 

"Think very, very carefully before planning any trips overseas," he warns. "If I had to do it again I probably wouldn't, but I felt I had no choice because of my mum. But I personally would not do another overseas trip until things have calmed down quite a bit. 

"I think it's too much of a risk. You can only base your travel on current regulations and the thing is regulations change almost daily. 

"You're consistently dodging the bullets and finding your way through and it's very stressful."

He said he was "glad" he did the trip but said the last six weeks have been the "most stressful period of his life".