‘It is only now I realise the toll the pandemic has taken’: a letter from the other side of Covid

I moved from London to New Zealand, where the sense of normality is surreal

Read more: Laura Barton on how a daily call to California got her through lockdown

New Zealand doesn’t exist. So goes the meme, an internet in-joke arising from the frequency with which the island nation is left off world maps, and amplified by the whimsical news stories that often emerge there. For instance: a city road was recently closed for an entire month to allow safe crossing for a family of sea lions. How is New Zealand even real? As a citizen, with a black-and-silver passport to prove it, I have caught myself asking that question since I arrived back here from London a month ago. How can this place – where you can hug your parents, go to bars with your friends, and live life more or less like it’s 2019 – be only a flight away from the one I left behind?

I left London, where I’d been living since 2017, a few days before Christmas, just as coronavirus cases started rising again rapidly, and the government braced, too late, for another lengthy lockdown. “Getting out, are you,” a man had said, eyeing my bags on the bus to the Piccadilly line. At each stop on my journey to Auckland, totalling three planes over nearly 24 hours, my phone had lit up with news of the rapidly deteriorating situation I’d just fled. Two weeks later, I was released from my government-managed quarantine hotel into New Zealand, where there had been no local transmission of coronavirus since November. It felt as if I had slipped into another world through the back of my hotel wardrobe.
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