Front line Royal Preston Hospital nurse trapped in New Zealand urges British MPs to bring people home

A front line Royal Preston Hospital nurse is desperate to get home to help save lives during the coronavirus outbreak - but she is stuck in New Zealand.

RachelBrockbank, a Royal Preston Hospital nurse, went to Christchurch in New Zealand on March 8 with her husband Rob, and their two boys.
RachelBrockbank, a Royal Preston Hospital nurse, went to Christchurch in New Zealand on March 8 with her husband Rob, and their two boys.

Critical care nurse Rachel Brockbank was due to fly home from Christchurch in New Zealand's South Island on Wednesday.

But her Emirates flight has been cancelled as the country is in lock-down and the only remaining tickets cost up to £40,096 ($83,000) each.

Now Rachel is appealing to British MPs to follow Germany's lead and charter special emergency planes to bring people home.

She said: "I want to go back. I don't think my family want me to, but I feel that's where I should be. That's where I'm needed."

She added: "We have tried everything. We've tried the travel agents at home, the airlines, everything.

"We are just waiting. The [British] Foreign Secretary is discussing things with the New Zealand Prime Minister."

Rachel went to Christchurch on March 8 with her husband Rob, their two boys, her mother and four other family members for her sister's wedding.

Her mother, who is 68 and has "underlying health conditions", and her mother's husband are staying with their newly-married daughter in Christchurch.

Rachel and the rest of the family group were travelling around the South Island when the lock-down was announced and rushed back to Christchurch, where they are in Airbnb accommodation.

They have looked into catching special daily flights from Auckland on Qatar Airways, but the cost is way out of their price range.

And in any case, they can't get to Auckland because the only people allowed on domestic New Zealand flights and on the Cook Strait ferries under the lock-down are people who have to travel for essential services.

Sir Mark Hendrick, Preston MP, co-wrote a letter to the Foreign British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last week to urge the Government to charter a plane to bring home British citizens from all over the world.

Mark, who has received around a dozen letters from trapped Brits, mainly in India and Pakistan, said: "I have huge sympathy for them. They didn't expect to be away longer than their holiday, so they might have problems with money and insurance."

He added: "It's disruptive to their lives, and they won't know if they can mix with family when they come back.

"It's bad enough worrying about coronavirus at home but if you're away, it's twice as hard."

The British High Commission in Wellington said Dominic Raab spoke to NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters yesterday to find a way to get home for more than 8,900 British nationals who have registered as still stuck in New Zealand.

Immigration New Zealand said there were 117,458 people in the country on visitor visas on March 14, many of whom were unable to leave before the lock-down on all domestic flights took effect at midnight on Friday.

Since then, visitors have only been able to leave New Zealand if they can get to an international airport by private car, because domestic flights, buses, trains, ferries, taxis, rental cars and ride-share services such as Uber are all restricted to people travelling for essential services only.

A Singapore Airlines spokesman said 450 to 460 people were expected to fly out of Auckland at 4-10pm today on a special flight to London with a "gas and go" stopover in Singapore where no one will be allowed off the plane except for about 80 Singaporeans who will stay there.

Qatar Airways has also put on daily flights from Auckland to Doha until April 17, but prices are said to be up to 10 times the normal cost of $3,000-$4,000.

The Guardian reported that a flight from Auckland through Doha to London on Tuesday March 31 was being quoted at £40,096 ($83,534), although the airline website offers tickets on both Tuesday and Wednesday from New Zealand at "$16,594".

A Qatar Airways spokeswoman in Sydney said: "Remaining seats that appear for sale are the very last available in highest booking classes (First and Business) because of the thousands of seats already sold in the previous few hours.

"Ticket prices can be higher than usual to cover operational costs because the traffic is heavily one-directional, so we recommend passengers book as early as they can to secure the best available price.

"As soon as our extra flights are loaded, they are selling out almost instantaneously. This is happening across all fare classes from lowest to highest due to huge demand."

The British High Commission said it was "working really hard to get commercial flights up and running again, working with Qatar Airways, Singapore, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Malaysian Airlines, Air NZ.

"But the NZ Government's level 4 Covid response, which now limits domestic flights and transport to essential workers only, makes it hard for lots of British nationals to get to their international departures.

"We are in touch with the NZ authorities on how we can get people to international departures in a way that is compliant with the level 4 guidance. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab spoke to Foreign Minister Peters about this today. And we continue to explore all options to help get UK nationals home."