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‘Happy to be home’

Teacher Shingo Suematsu is relieved to be home in Gisborne but still has to abide by strict quarantine rules until 4pm tomorrow when he will be able to hug his family.

Mr Suematsu was one of 13 local people on board a controversial chartered Government repatriation flight that landed in Gisborne yesterday.

He had been in quarantine at an Auckland hotel after arriving in the country on a flight from Brisbane on Thursday, March 26.

“I am so happy to be home and I am feeling fit and healthy, but still checking my temperature twice a day,” he told The Herald this morning.

Security has been extremely tight. He and the other passengers were required to fill out their contact details and home quarantine conditions on an information sheet handed out by police who went on board when the flight landed.

Throughout the trip home they were under strict supervision by the Ministry of Health, police and Civil Defence.

The airport terminal was closed so they didn’t enter it. The crew did not disembark and the aircraft left Gisborne in the afternoon.

Everything was done with utmost caution so we didn’t contaminate it, said Mr Suematsu.

The passengers had all recently returned from overseas and were in Auckland before their departure for Gisborne on a chartered Air New Zealand aircraft.

All passengers had been in quarantine and will remain in quarantine until their individual 14-day timeframes come to an end.

“The police and Civil Defence handled all of our luggage in order to maintain the self-distancing all the way to Gisborne Airport,” said Mr Suematsu.

Every precaution was taken before the passengers left for their individual destinations

Hauora Tairawhiti chief executive Jim Green said every precaution was taken before the passengers left for their individual destinations.

“It has been a difficult time for anyone whose travel plans were caught up in the lockdown,” said Mr Green. “These 13 people now find themselves in the comfort of their own homes and with their own families.”

Mr Suematsu was met by wife Anzhela and driven back to their home.

“I have my own room and separate toilet,” said Mr Suematsu.

During the 13 long days he spent at the Sebel Hotel in Auckland he was checked daily by nurses wearing full Personal Protective Equipment.

He passed the time doing a lot of walking around the hotel.

“I was walking for about three or four hours a day, about 10 kilometres, as well as doing workouts in my room, so I am feeling fit.”

Domestic repatriation flights have been occurring across the country. The process is carefully managed in order to keep the various bubbles isolated from each other and the public.

Domestic repatriation involves police, defence, customs, aviation security, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and health personnel.

Health protection staff know where each passenger is now staying.

Public health nurses plan to follow up with the passengers by phone until the end of their quarantine period.

If telephone contact is not available health staff will ask for support from the police.

More repatriation flights are expected

More repatriation flights are expected over the next few weeks.

However, the move has been controversial, with many on social media questioning safety and raising concerns of the risk returnees pose to others.

A district health board spokeswoman said those returning would never have been let on the flight had they been a risk.

All passengers had to supply a “suitable” address to finish their 14-day quarantine period at and some only had days left before they had reached that limit.

All returnees were issued with government guidelines around self-isolation and also agreed to a Gisborne-specific request that there were no at-risk or vulnerable people at that address.

They were told to isolate as much as possible and were instructed not to go for a walk and to stay inside.

“Some people are staying in caravans to self-isolate,” she said.

Staff would be active in following up returnees.

Some of those returning had been tested for Covid-19 but not all.

Only those meeting testing criteria had been tested.

Mr Green said the returnees posed no additional threat than was already present.

“At the moment we don’t know if anyone is Covid-19 free.”

ONE DAY TO GO: Shingo Suematsu is looking forward to taking a walk on his local beach with his family when he comes out of quarantine at 4pm tomorrow. Picture supplied