An aerial view of Lima, Peru. Photo/Getty GettyImages-1181787516.JPG
A Pāpāmoa Beach couple who have spent weeks in quarantine couldn't wait to have more freedoms but say they will never forget their "surreal" journey to get to this point.
Jackie Stewart and her 78-year-old husband Neil's tour of South America was abruptly cut short on March 16 after the Colombian border was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Stewarts found themselves locked down in a hotel room in Lima, Peru under strict military law until a reparation flight was organised by the New Zealand Government.
The couple, who "maxed out their credit card" to pay the almost $11,000 fare for their flights, and 58 other Kiwis landed at Auckland International Airport on April 15.
Jackie Stewart said she still felt "bitterly disappointed" the Government took so long to act as they watched their Lima hotel empty out of other foreign nationals.
The Stewarts and other passengers on the mercy flight were then quarantined to a hotel room in central Auckland for 14 days.
Jackie said apart from the occasional walk to nearby Albert Park overseen by security officials they were mainly confined to their hotel room.
"We had to pre-book our walks a day in advance. But that was knocked on the head after a few days. We were told it was unsafe due to members of the public using the same area.
This meant we were mostly confined to our rooms and our pre-ordered meals were left outside our door in brown paper bags inside cardboard boxes," she said.
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"We were on the 11th floor, so most of our meals were stone-cold by the time they delivered to us. We were told there were about 400 people under quarantine in the hotel."
Jackie said at times she and her husband felt like they were being treated "like criminals" and their confinement caused them "significant anxiety".
She said their lengthy quarantine was a "surreal" experience which left them both feeling physically and mentally drained.
Jackie said once "handed their release papers" and travelled back to Papamoa, they still faced another two weeks of alert level four and three restrictions.
She said it took a few days to feel comfortable in their own home and at times it was like living in a dreamlike state and they felt quite anxious and on edge.
"We have been doing a lot travelling over the past three years so I thought it was just a very bad case of jet lag. But a relative told us that we most probably suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of what we have been through."
Neil said within two days of returning home his blood pressure "skyrocketed" to a life-threatening level and his doctor had to put him on his strong medication.
It was only in the past few days he had started to feel a lot better, he said.
Neil said just being able to stroll on the beach again and take his usual hour or so daily walk felt "fantastic".
The Prime Minister's announcement that the country was moving to alert level 2 environment after weeks in quarantine came as a "huge relief", he said.
"Just having the freedom to go to the shops again together and also choose where we want to go and when is a huge step forward from being in quarantine.".
"It's also great to be able to visit with family again after only being able to talk on the phone or communicate through emails.
"I am just grateful to be home again and being able to carry on with our lives. I look forward to seeing what happens from here," he said.
Jackie said the journey to this point had been a very sad end to what was supposed to be their third long-awaited tour of South America.
" I don't know whether we will ever go back there again, and even if we wanted to it could be 12 months or more before the borders re-open and airlines are operational again."
"It's great to be able to visit with family again. I feel so sorry for all the people still stranded overseas who won't get to do that any time soon."