A visiting Frenchman stranded in Rotorua with his wife and two friends has revealed for the first time how he fought Covid-19 while isolating in the city. He also talks about how he was bought to tears from the kindness of managers at a Rotorua accommodation facility. Journalist Kelly Makiha reports.
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Unable to stand, fighting the worst headache of his life and barely conscious, Frenchman Bruno La Posta was stranded in Rotorua fighting the deadly Covid-19.
It was supposed to be a trip of a lifetime with his wife, Valerie, and their friends Angelique and Pierre Bon. Instead, the two panicked couples had to be holed up in isolation at the All Seasons Holiday Park in Rotorua waiting for Bruno to recover.
But despite the disastrous trip, they say the holiday park managers Tracie and Kevin Thornborough have "brought honour" to New Zealand and they were grateful for how they, the New Zealand Government, Rotorua health authorities and Civil Defence treated them.
They say they will definitely be back, especially to Rotorua.
Bruno, 57, who with his wife, 52, run three restaurants in France, started to feel unwell a few days before they left for New Zealand on March 11.
Covid-19 hadn't spread widely in France at that stage and it never clicked that could be what was wrong. He went to the doctor and was told it just a cold.
They went ahead with their planned three-week trip, part of which was to spend time with one of their daughters who lives in Auckland.
He struggled for the first few days while catching up with his daughter before the foursome headed to Thames, which was where Bruno went downhill.
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His symptoms got so bad, he went to a doctor and was told to travel more than hour away to Waikato Hospital to be tested. He then had to isolate until they got the results, which they decided to do in Rotorua which was next on their travel agenda.
Speaking to the Rotorua Daily Post from their home in France this week, Valerie said they were "panicked" and worried about Bruno as he was so sleepy and barely conscious.
They had to move from their first Rotorua accommodation and found it hard to find anyone else who would take them.
Tracie Thornborough said she got the call at 7.15pm from the Ministry of Health and didn't hesitate to say yes to having them at their campground as she had two cabins that were away from other guests.
"We were supposed to be in America and I just imagined how I'd feel if that was me," Tracie said.
The ministry brought the La Postas and the Bons to the campground that night. Valerie was allowed to stay with Bruno to care for him but she never caught the virus, neither did the Bons. The other three weren't tested as they never experienced symptoms.
Bruno said the generosity of Tracie and Kevin blew them away, so much so they all broke down crying when they had to say goodbye after three-and-a-half weeks.
He said Tracie would bring them cake every day and leave it on their steps and did their grocery shopping.
Bruno said they were so impressed with not just Tracie and Kevin but also New Zealand.
"I want to say thank you to the New Zealand Government for handling everything so right even though it was a scary time."
Valerie said Tracie and Kevin made their trip so much more enjoyable, especially given the stress she was under to ensure Bruno recovered on top of worrying about their restaurants which were being forced to undergo new regulations as Covid-19 spread through France while they were away.
Tracie said they were happy to help the French visitors as well as some from the Netherlands, England and Germany who were also stranded in New Zealand and staying at the campground during level 4.
She said when she agreed to take in Bruno, her husband was in Hamilton.
"I was wondering how I'd tell my husband when he got back and I just said 'those two rooms got booked while you were gone, one's a confirmed Covid case'."
She said there was a pause before she asked if he was upset with her.
"He said, 'no of course not, I wouldn't expect anything else from you'," Tracie said, laughing.
The Bons told the Rotorua Daily Post this week from France they couldn't thank Tracie and Kevin enough for their "remarkable" kindness.
"We were entitled to her smile and her good humour every day. She regularly came to bring us her little cakes that she had made," Pierre said.
Once fully out of the woods, Tracie organised a meal with the few other visitors at the campground who were in their bubble.
"With her husband, she had prepared a meal with New Zealand specialities and chocolate offered to everyone to celebrate Easter. The last days of our stay, we were able to walk around the lake, it was magnificent."
Pierre said they had never met "quality people" like Tracie and Kevin before.
"They have brought honour to New Zealand. We will never forget them and we hope to return one day to discover this magnificent country."
Meanwhile, Tracie said if faced with the same situation again, she wouldn't hesitate to extend their hospitality.
"I think it's a natural thing for us Kiwis to do so didn't think anything of it."