In the future, I may look back on this and remember what is was like to travel during COVID-19. Of course, unless one really had to, you would not choose to travel at such a time. I will summarize my two-week quarantine in New Zealand. In the meantime here is a prologue while I remain stuck in Laos but soon to leave.
Since the latter half of 2020 I’d been trying to return to New Zealand. There had been the occasional charter flight but none that had a connection to New Zealand. There was one but at that time I could not get an NZ MIQ quarantine voucher, this is mission impossible. I have since learned that you try 10 minutes past the hour and things open up for 1-2 minutes if you can grab it fast enough.
Early in Jan some flights from Laos were announced. I contacted the agent to confirm the flight and started researching the Japanese transit requirements and researching connecting flights. I emailed the N Embassy in Thailand, but unfortunately, they were unable to assist. Lao Airlines required people departing to have a COVID-19 test. I was advised this could be done in Luang Prabang and the Hospital Director confirmed this however Lao Airlines was unaware of this. I decided to g to Vientiane to be tested. This would require 3 days as the centre is not open on weekends. I tried calling over 2 weeks but the phone went unanswered. I found I cannot transit Japan as the proposed flight arrives at one terminal and departs another.
The search continues.
I contact NZ MIQ to apply for a MIQ voucher on compassionate grounds. I am declined as I must apply within 7 days of departure. I explain Laos is in complete lockdown and only chartered flights are ut on and are planned before 7 days. I am granted an exception to apply. I apply for a compassionate voucher and it is granted a few days later.
A flight is proposed to China, I enquire but it is only available for Chinese citizens.
A flight is advertised for 20 Feb to Seoul. I contact various people to check if it is approved and receive conflicting answers including from Lao Airlines who is operating the flight. I hold a reservation with an agent as Lao Airlines is not able to make reservations. A week later it is confirmed and I pay. I book the connecting Air New Zealand flight and a week later file my MIQ voucher and details with Australian DFAT.
Thankfully I had a few weeks to organise my departure. I have time to sort things and pack up. it was odd seeing things in boxed and my place so empty. Luckily I have a wonderful farewell party with all my friends at RedBul on Saturday and a few smaller catchups in the week surrounding this. There were a few sad moments in the following days. It has been one massive logistically and research exercise and not much time had been left to really process my feelings and what to expect in the coming weeks and months. I had been ticking off one item and moving onto the next for weeks.
Everything was packed and I departed Luang Prabang on the 17th and arrived in Vientiane. I met up with a couple of friends in Vientiane and a fellow New Zealander who was having a difficult time getting a voucher and flight to return to New Zealand as well.
This morning I rose and make my way to the The National Centre Laboratory Epidemiology at 8.30am. The queue stretched out onto the road and didn’t move for 2 hours. It was going to be a long wait. By 10.15 there were about 10 people queuing. The 2 ladies handling everyone’s paperwork and money wore no gloves or face shields, a slight concern but then most people don’t think there is any COVID in Laos.
The 2 staff inside the room were in PPE gear. I aid 1,200,000 LAK for a swab in my throat and up my nose, that hurt, and 30 seconds later I was out. “Come back tomorrow for the result”. I had allowed the required 2 days for this.
After I was very near the clinic where I took Rosie for her operation back in September and I had found a lovely cafe nearby run by deaf people, so I returned here for al ate breakfast. It was delightful and the staff are wonderful so that perked up my day after a typical kind of morning when it comes to Lao healthcare establishments.
With not a whole lot else to do and in desperate need of more exercise I walked back to the center, about an hour.
It is clearly not a common activity to walk as there is a lack of footpaths as I walked the 4 km’s along the side of the road.
Mission accomplished for day 2 of my COVID-19 journey.
After a croissant for breakfast, I got a tuk tuk to the testing center for 9am and got my result in a few minutes.
As expected it was negative, so I get to depart tomorrow. I bumped into a few people I know on the same flight so will see them tomorrow. Oddly one of them on the same flight had a different departing time on his ticket. Strange but not surprising.
There is a Travel Expo on today at the Vientiane Centre so I joined this and spoke with a few colleagues who were there.
I am now beginning to look forward to the departure and get this flight behind me.
Repacked my bag this morning and got lunch at Common Grounds Cafe. I’m killing time until I go to the airport at 7pm to check in for the 22:20 flight.
The sole purpose of the trip to Vientiane was to get the COVID-19 test, as I could not get an answer from Lao Airlines if they accepted the COVID-19 test in Luang Prabang. This is day 4, my last day in Laos, and in 24 hours I will be in Korea transit waiting 11 hours for the 12-hour flight to New Zealand.