I thought location made New Zealand safest place during crisis – but it’s also about people’s behaviour, says Czech

Jakub Freiwald, photo: archive of Jakub Freiwald

New Zealand has one of the world’s best records on Covid-19, with fewer than 1,300 detected cases and two dozen deaths to date. Among the Czechs currently living there is Jakub Freiwald, who visits New Zealand annually and had arrived not long before the coronavirus pandemic began hitting many places beyond China. On the line from the Pacific island state, I asked Freiwald whether he had considered returning to his native country early in the coronavirus crisis.

Jakub Freiwald, photo: archive of Jakub Freiwald

“I could have done that, but it was extremely difficult, quite expensive and I don’t like to make such hurried decisions.

“Also one of the reasons why I decided to stay here was that I was pretty sure I was in one of the safest places in the world to live through this corona crisis.”

New Zealand is famously one of the safest places in the world to be right now. Is that mainly down to geography? Or is it also because of the measures that the New Zealand government have brought in?

“In the beginning, before I came, I was thinking that it would be safe mainly because of the geographical reasons, like you mentioned.

“But the longer I’m staying here, I’m pretty sure that it’s not only because of that – it’s also because of the government, the prime minister and in general all the people living here.

“Because the mentality is absolutely different here than what we have in the Czech Republic.

“People follow the rules and they don’t have a problem with following them – because the rules have some kind of system.

Jacinda Ardern, source: Foundations World Economic Forum, CC BY 2.0

“Everything is announced in advance, it makes sense, you have time to prepare.

“Jacinda [Ardern, prime minister] has these speeches, or she used to have them, every day and it’s, let’s say, fun to watch her. She’s very empathetic, very sympathetic.

“So I personally didn’t have a problem to follow the rules and from what I experienced here nobody else did either.”

I understand you’re there with other Czechs. How do you and your friends view the situation back home, and how the Czechs have dealt with the coronavirus crisis?

“From what I saw in the Czech Republic, all the announcements of our government, of the prime minister, were so chaotic.

“Most people I think didn’t have a clue, because in the morning they said one thing and in the afternoon they said something else.

“It was nice to watch how people were helping each other, making these masks and all the other things.

“We proved once again that we are a skillful nation and that we can help each other, even without the support of these rich guys and Chinese guys and whatever else.”

Finally Jakub, could you leave New Zealand now and come back to the Czech Republic now? Or what are you plans?

“I could leave New Zealand now, but it’s still very complicated and it’s still very expensive.

“There is an option to go back to the Czech Republic through Australia. You take one flight from New Zealand to Australia, then you take two flights to get to Europe and from some city in Europe you get to Prague.

Auckland in New Zeland, photo: ChewyPineapple, CC BY-SA 3.0

“Basically instead of the two flights you take normally, you would have to take four flights and the price is double to triple the normal price.

“So even though the winter is coming here, which I was a little bit afraid of – I was never in New Zealand during the winter – so far it just seems like it’s the best place to be.

“My plans currently are that I would like to go back to Europe, let’s say, in August.

“But the prime minister Jacinda said that the country will be in lockdown for a very long time – I mean lockdown where nobody can come in or go out.

“So if the situation will still be the same, that the flights will be this expensive and it will be that complicated, I think I would probably stay even longer.

“Because everyone’s visas were extended automatically until the end of September and they are already talking about another extension.

“So if they leave us here, we will stay.”