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    Coronavirus: Kiwi family stuck in Sri Lanka calls for more government assistance

    Bill Stevenson and his family went to Sri Lanka for a holiday. They are now stranded, and the only guests in an otherwise empty hotel.

    The Christchurch man is calling on the Government to provide more support to New Zealanders stuck overseas as a result of countries imposing travel restrictions and airlines slashing flights due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Bill Stevenson and Kirsten Stevenson are stuck in Sri Lanka with two of their children, Josiah Barnes and Rebekah Barnes.
    SUPPLIED
    Bill Stevenson and Kirsten Stevenson are stuck in Sri Lanka with two of their children, Josiah Barnes and Rebekah Barnes.

    Other countries have organised mercy flights to repatriate their citizens. “There’s obviously opportunities to get us out, because the Maldives are doing it. Germany is doing it,” Stevenson said.

    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday unless there were commercial flights operating it was almost impossible to bring people home. The Government had been proactive about telling people to return, she said, but now the window for travel had closed.

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    “The message now for many New Zealanders will simply be wherever you are set yourself up for the time being, because it has become increasingly difficult for us to bring you home.”

    Stevenson, wife Kirsten and two of their children, aged 13 and 17, left New Zealand on March 9 and spent two days in Singapore before continuing on to Sri Lanka for a holiday they had planned for the past eight months.

    When the New Zealand Government started encouraging people to return, they brought their flights forward from March 26 to March 20.

    Stevenson said this was the only available flight, but it was cancelled and the family could not proceed with their original booking as Singapore moved to ban transit passengers. A travel agent was helping the family look for other options, Stevenson said, but had found nothing.

    The empty pool where the family is staying.
    SUPPLIED
    The empty pool where the family is staying.

    As a result, the Christchurch family was stuck in the city of Kandy with their guide, who had been with them since the start of the trip. Stevenson said they were the only guests in the 32-room hotel where they were staying, and they were unable to go out as Sri Lanka had a curfew in place.

    “It feels a bit surreal. I guess it’s a mindset change of understanding we’re stuck here. It’s tough we can’t get home to our family.”

    The uncertainty of when flights might be available again made things particularly hard, both financially and emotionally.

    “Are we going to be stuck here for a month? Are we going to be stuck here for six months?”

    The family was meant to leave Sri Lanka on March 26, but now has no idea when they can get out.
    SUPPLIED
    The family was meant to leave Sri Lanka on March 26, but now has no idea when they can get out.

    The family is paying $200 a night for two rooms. Stevenson said he and his family had saved up for their holiday, and now faced financial stress having to keep paying for accommodation, but they had no other choice. “We can’t live on the street.”

    There was a pool at the hotel, and the family had been busy playing board games, but they faced a uncertain wait.

    If the Government was not providing mercy flights, Stevenson said any money allocated for that should be used to support New Zealanders stuck overseas. This could include helping people pay for any available commercial flights.

    “We’re not here because we want to be here. We’re here here because of what’s happened.”

    Courtesy – Stuff

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