From lockdown in New Zealand to home quarantine in Slovakia. A COVID-19 odyssey

In which your correspondent inadvertently circumnavigates the globe in the middle of a pandemic.

The deserted Auckland airport, New Zealand's busiest, in May 2020.The deserted Auckland airport, New Zealand's busiest, in May 2020. (Source: James Thomson)

I must really like this place.

In the last two weeks I have travelled from arguably the safest country on earth, through two of the most coronavirus-afflicted, to return to Slovakia and the curious half-life that is ‘home quarantine’.

Related articleWhat Slovakia and New Zealand (don't) have in common Read more 

On Friday, I stood in the rain in the car park of a Bratislava hospital as a nurse in full personal protective equipment – disposable body suit, Perspex face shield, surgical mask, gloves, even white rubber boots – stuck a swab down my throat, and another up my nose.

It was the first time I had left my apartment in more than a week. Despite the result from this coronavirus test – negative! – I must remain at home until 14 days of quarantine have expired.

Getting this far has been an adventure.

Oblivious to the growing pandemic

I left Slovakia in mid February as novel coronavirus was spreading across China – but by then only a few cases (and no deaths) had been reported in Europe.

After several flights and a stopover in Australia, I reached New Zealand, where four days later I began a long-planned cycling event that was to take me 3,000 kilometres from the top to the bottom of the country.

For days at a time, my cycling companions and I rode along mountain bike paths and dirt roads, away from major towns and cities.

Occasionally, we would pick up a newspaper or catch news online of the disease’s global spread. But for most of the ride, it remained distant.

Even as the pandemic grew closer, and cases started to crop up in New Zealand, the physical and logistical demands of the ride kept us distracted.

Strange to say, I don’t much regret being oblivious to the growing panic: there is little we could have done about it had we known more.

Only towards the end of the ride did things begin to change.

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