Whanganui nurse Robert Smith isn't sure when he'll see his 4-year-old daughter again.

He remembers the drive to Upper Hutt the day the lockdown began, and he remembers having to pull over several times as his eyes became teary and "the road got a bit misty".

Smith was taking his youngest daughter Poppy to stay with relatives, knowing it was the safest place for her to be as he and his wife continued their essential work in the Whanganui Hospital's emergency department.

"I want to be able to hold my daughter," Smith today told the Herald, three weeks on.

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He has made an emotional plea to Kiwis to take the lockdown seriously, so he can be reunited with Poppy and his other children, two teenagers who live in Whanganui.

Smith and his wife, Melinda Smith had to make the tough decision to send Poppy away for the lockdown, as they both work as nurses at the hospital.

Robert and Melinda Smith have been living apart from their 4-year-old daughter, Poppy, since the lockdown began. Photo / Supplied
Robert and Melinda Smith have been living apart from their 4-year-old daughter, Poppy, since the lockdown began. Photo / Supplied

Not only was it safer for Poppy to stay away as they faced exposure to potential coronavirus cases every shift, but closed daycares also meant it was difficult for the couple to care for her while continuing to help patients.

Making the call to send Poppy away was "probably one of the hardest decisions" Smith had to make in his life, he said.

"It was a matter that we had to sort of weigh up what our hearts wanted vs what our hearts needed, which was her being safe," he said.

There were "lots of tears", and even on the drive down to Upper Hutt to drop Poppy off, Smith had to pull over several times as "the road got a bit misty".

"She didn't really understand why she was going there."

After an emotional goodbye Smith started the drive home, only to realise he still had Poppy's car seat, meaning he had to turn around and go back.

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"We had to have another cuddle and goodbye," he said.

"It really is awful. Even knowing that she's in the right place."

Smith recorded a tearful video after saying goodbye to his daughter, urging people to take the lockdown seriously.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

He wanted to "show people what I personally was giving up".

There were many other health professionals who would be in the same boat as him, and some who were on the other side of the world from their families.

"Poppy is safe and she's in the same country, but by the same token she's so far away and you can only get so much contact with a bouncing 4-year-old."

Smith said he'd had "some really down times" during lockdown being apart from all of his children, though he has been able to have the occasional "at-the-fence visit" with his two teenagers.

Poppy has been handling the separation well, but would still say "see you in the morning" to her parents during video calls.

They were uncertain when they'd be able to see their daughter again, as they were unsure whether travel to pick Poppy up would be allowed on alert level 3, and if daycares would be open at that stage.

Smith had a message for those breaching the lockdown.

"The printable version is that the more people stuff around not taking it seriously, the longer it goes on and therefore the longer that I'm apart from my family.

"I want to be able to hold my daughter, and to do that the country needs to be in a safe place, so everyone has to do their part. Stay home."