Covid-19: 'You don't miss NZ, then suddenly you do' - expat describes life in Ireland

On March 14 last year, New Zealand decided to close its borders to stop coronavirus ravaging the community. For the expats living abroad, home has never felt so far away. Brittney Deguara speaks to Kiwis living overseas, unable to easily get home.
Expat Michael Houghton might be living on the other side of the world during the Covid-19 pandemic, but hes constantly reminded of home.

My son, who is almost 10, he goes around wearing a Kiwi basketball top, and then my 7-year-old [is] a big All Blacks supporter.

Originally from Auckland, Houghton, 36, moved to Limerick in Ireland in 2011. He and his wife have three children who have only visited New Zealand a few times, but they have strong connections to their fathers homeland.

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They know about New Zealand culture, Houghton said. [My 7-year-old] quickly realised that the All Blacks have a much better winning rate, he laughed.

Speaking to Stuff from Limerick, Houghton cast his mind back to the beginning of the pandemic, when cases began to quickly multiply in Ireland, and New Zealand made the decision to close its borders.

Ireland was kind of ahead ... they had cases here roughly the same time, but the outbreak had hit here more severely.

Michael Houghton with his sons Daniel, Jake, Isaac and wife Rachel Houghton at Jake's belated First Holy Communion held in September.

The pandemic quickly took hold in Ireland, and has continued to do so. To date, they have recorded 4566 deaths and 228,215 confirmed cases.

By the time New Zealand closed its borders in March, Ireland was already living with various restrictions. Houghton was already living what Aotearoa was bracing itself for.

Although he doesnt travel home often he last visited with his family in 2017 it was always nice knowing home was just a few flights away. Like many expats living abroad at this time, the official closure of the border robbed him of that feeling.

The funny thing about being an expat [is] you dont miss New Zealand and then suddenly you do, and when you do you really want to get back.

When its taken away, there is that feeling of oh right, thats not going to happen.

Its a sense of sadness, he said.

It is tough living overseas sometimes and obviously with Facebook and technology we get to see everything that happens in New Zealand all the time, but I think knowing that its there, and you can go there, is certainly a nice thing.

Houghton admitted he wouldnt want to travel home during the pandemic as it would just present a major risk to his health and that of his familys.

Weve kind of seen it firsthand just how hard it can get ... wouldnt be in a hurry to get back because I know just how much damage it can do.

The father-of-three watched in awe as the New Zealand Government immediately rolled out an effective response to the pandemic. The decision to charge for managed isolation and quarantine was also a smart move as having it free for everyone was a bit of a stretch, he thought.

Weve seen it from the other side where a government has no idea how to handle a pandemic, Houghton said. We kind of feel like sometimes [friends] take it for granted how lucky New Zealand is now.

In the first few months of the pandemic, the Irish Government didnt close its borders, and allowed quarantine-free travel from countries with similar or lower Covid-19 rates. In January, it went from having one of the lowest Covid-19 cases per capita in the European Union to having the highest in the world.

Houghton noted theres a feeling of nervousness in the community, especially as schools begin to reopen and shops are allowed to resume trading.

The case numbers arent really coming down.

Without a clear Covid plan, theres no real end in sight. You can literally only take it one day at a time.

On Wednesday, an additional 17 deaths and 557 cases were reported in Ireland.

Despite the large number of cases and the remaining risk to the community, life in Ireland is pretty good for a Kiwi.

Its very easy for Irish people to get on with New Zealand people and vice versa. So culturally, there isnt any pressure here to change.

We kind of refer to our kids as Irish Kiwis.

Until the Covid-19 situation improves in Ireland, Houghton and his family are staying put.


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