A family who cut short their holiday in China after fearing for their safety because of coronavirus are gobsmacked by the low level of response at Auckland Airport on their arrival.

Aucklander Leah Robertson landed in New Zealand last Tuesday with her husband, a Chinese national, and their 4-year-old daughter.

The family had been on a three-week holiday in China visiting her husband's family for the Lunar New Year in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province when the city started to close down around them.

Robertson, who had visited China twice previously, said the first indication something was wrong was when guards scanned their temperatures as they went to go through the gate to a popular mountain on January 20.


The next day they took their daughter for a short walk near their apartment before self-isolating themselves.

The family had taken masks to China with them because of the pollution, but donned them every time they went outside.
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By this stage the whole city had closed. Public transport was stopped and shopping malls were closed. Students and workers were also told to delay their return to work and school after the Chinese New Year holidays.

Robertson said being in a country where access to online information was limited and she didn't speak the language - fortunately her husband did - had been extremely frightening.

"If I had a temperature because I had a little cold - if they had pointed it at me and I failed I wouldn't have understood a word of what was happening but I would have probably been arrested. That's why we just wanted to leave."

Leah Robertson and her 4-year-old daughter were visiting family in Jinan in Eastern China when the city
Leah Robertson and her 4-year-old daughter were visiting family in Jinan in Eastern China when the city "closed" due to coronavirus. Photo / Supplied

Rather than contacting the NZ Embassy, they decided to get themselves out and were able to bring their flights back to New Zealand forward by four days.

Their flight between Jinan and Chengdu was cancelled and they scrambled to get another before waiting 13 hours at the international terminal for a connecting flight to Auckland.

"80 per cent of the [domestic] flights were getting cancelled. We started to think we are never getting out of here - we are never going to get out."


On board the half full Sichuan Airlines flight everyone was wearing masks and airline staff checked all the passengers' temperatures before they disembarked at 7pm on Tuesday.

But Robertson, who had been expecting to be greeted by a medical team, said no one was on the ground in Auckland checking people who had arrived from China.

"In China everything is very obvious. They are pointing it [thermo imaging cameras] and someone is sitting there and you will get grabbed if you don't meet the requirements.

"But coming into New Zealand there was nothing. For me it was just like we got off a plane and walked through and no one really seemed that concerned.

She said ground staff seemed to be more concerned about the food they were bringing into the country.

"I thought: 'New Zealand - what are you doing?' It's probably here and just hasn't been reported. That's my feeling."


They were handed leaflets with advice about self-isolating and what to do if they felt sick, but no one was enforcing it, she said. She worried about the other people who stepped off the plane without any isolation.

"I could honestly be at a swimming pool. a library, a supermarket. They are just trusting us to do the honourable thing."

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said public health teams were not carrying out individual inspections, but were giving information to each passenger and asking passengers to seek advice from public health nurses if they have symptoms.

It is also recommending those who have been in mainland China after February 2 to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival in New Zealand.

As of last week, anyone who has left or transited through mainland China from February 2, unless they are New Zealand citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family, citizens of Tokelau, Niue and the Cook Islands, and air crew who have used appropriate protective equipment, will be denied entry into New Zealand.