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'Go back to where you came from' – Kiwis in managed isolation facing abuse from the public

Kiwis in managed isolation say they’re worried recent incidents of others breaking out may heighten public animosity towards them, as some report abuse from the public.

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Some in isolation are reporting abuse from the general public with some hotels closing outdoor exercise areas to avoid conflict. Source: 1 NEWS

A man staying at Rotorua’s Sudima Hotel, which was put into lockdown today after a reported positive case, says there have been two abusive incidents during his stay, one in which guests in the hotel's gated-off exercise area were told to “go back” where they came from.

“A passerby walking past had obviously heard them talking and said to them, 'why don't you just f*** off and go back to where you came from?' I'm actually quite stunned to hear that from New Zealanders. The majority of people in that facility are returning Kiwis. I was dumbfounded.”

In another incident, the man says a woman shouted abuse at those in the exercise area and the security guards because a tarpaulin covering the fence had been blown off.

“There was a woman there screaming at the top of her voice to close the f***ing cover. That cover is there to give everyone privacy, maybe she thought Covid was going to blow through the hole and she was going to get sick.”

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The beefed-up security at 28 facilities comes after two people escaped recently, one confirmed as a Covid-19 case. Source: 1 NEWS

Sylvia Longhurst, a nurse returning from Abu Dhabi, says she’s planning to stay in her room for the duration of her two-week isolation stay, fearing abuse from the public if she exercises on hotel grounds.

“If I was to go for a supervised walk wearing a mask, I feel like I could be targeted so I'm preferring to stay inside and not go for a walk.”

“I'd rather just stay inside and not be subjected to anything. I’ll stay out of it.”

The Government’s Covid-19 response team says while the overall response from Kiwis has been welcoming, there have been instances of members of the public being abusive to guests and staff at managed isolation facilities.

It’s reminding Kiwis to be respectful to each other.

“We would like to remind people that these are New Zealand citizens and residents returning, often in difficult circumstances,” they said.

Managed isolation head Air Commodore Darryn Webb says the “asymmetry” of the outside environment versus inside isolation facilities has created “friction”, and exercise on hotel grounds in the CBD has been cancelled as a result.

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An Auckland supermarket had to close after a man escaped from a nearby isolation facility. Source: 1 NEWS

“We have terminated exercise areas in the central part of Auckland as a result of things basically being unfair for people who have to exercise in that area,” he said.

Returned Kiwi Cayden Wilson spoke out about struggling to get a test despite being classed as a contact of a positive case in June. He says dozens of abusive comments were written about him on social media as a result - a phenomenon he feels is getting worse as more Kiwis return home.

“People said stuff like ‘lock him away and throw away the key’, I was doing everything I was supposed to do. I hadn’t done anything wrong.”

“Some of those comments were so nasty, I couldn’t sleep for most of that night because they just kept coming. I couldn’t believe some of them.”

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Victoria University clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland says the "othering" of returning Kiwis is a flipside of the cohesive messaging used during lockdown.

“We created this cohesive group of us together, and anyone who's not in this group is seen as an outgroup and regarded with suspicion. I think the difficulty has been those messages of togetherness and oneness have dropped off of late and there has been fracturing and splitting of ‘the team of five million.'"

Those still in isolation, like Ms Longhurst, says she’s “grateful and excited” to be home. She says she’s just as frustrated as anyone by the actions of isolation absconders, though she feels like it’s too late to change the minds of some who think negatively about returnees.

“I think it would be quite hard to change the public perception and to accept us, actually.”

“There are two people in nearly 30,000 who haven't followed the rules. It’s very irresponsible what they did. All the Government’s been asking is to do is play by the rules. How difficult can it be?”

Do you have a story about managed isolation? Contact our reporter Kristin Hall on kristin.hall@tvnz.co.nz