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Bishop's Stortford couple Mandy and David Hood in lockdown in motel on the other side of the world

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The trip of a lifetime for a Bishop’s Stortford couple came to an abrupt halt in New Zealand – where they are now stranded 12,000 miles from home.

Mandy and David Hood, both 65 from Thorley, are staying in a motel in Christchurch, on the south island. Although they are in good health, they are desperate to get back to be closer to their newest grandson, born just a week ago, and Mandy’s 93-year-old mother.

Their son, Edd, said it was hard to put a positive spin on their situation, but they were in a safe place, although not considered a priority to be brought home.

The Hood family before their parents were stranded in New Zealand (32734149)
The Hood family before their parents were stranded in New Zealand (32734149)

“It’s a waiting game, which is the hardest thing because you don’t know how long it’s going to be,” said Edd, who is at home in Thorley Hill with his family, wife Samantha and children Romilly, 2, and baby Xander.

He told the Indie that his parents were nearing the end of a six-week trip, during which they had toured Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, when the coronavirus outbreak took hold.

They were given 36 hours by Emirates to get to Christchurch Airport before airspace was closed, but on arrival they discovered that all flights were full.

Mandy and David Hood in happier times at Raffles Hotel, Singapore (32734130)
Mandy and David Hood in happier times at Raffles Hotel, Singapore (32734130)

Emirates has ceased operating and now the Hoods’ only chance of a flight home is as part of a Government repatriation mission, which the town’s MP Julie Marson is attempting to arrange via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Edd said: “They were trying to speak to flight carriers, but during that process the world closed in on them with every transit option closed to them. They’re in the furthest away place possible and cannot get a flight. It’s a bit of a torrid time for them.

“There are repatriation flights, but only from Auckland on the north island and they cannot get up there, they’re stuck.

“They’re in good health. They do have medical requirements, but are getting prescriptions sorted locally.

“From our perspective, we’ve just had our second child and they’re itching to get back. I also have a 93-year-old grandmother, who lives in Hockerill, who is worried about my mum and Mum is worried about my grandmother. I’m trying to look after her as well as our newborn while not having any social contact.

“It’s a ridiculous time, I get that, and if they were here they couldn’t pop round anyway, but they just want to get back.”

Edd said they were “quite tearful” at times because they felt so far away, but were beginning to accept that they were out there until at least the end of April. “They just need the support of the FCO and Julie Marson to get them home,” he added.

Lesley Bagulay, senior parliamentary assistant to Julie Marson, told the couple’s son that she had been in direct contact with them “during this difficult time” and they were now urgently working to bring them home as quickly as possible.

“All their contact details have been brought to the attention of the FCO to ensure they’re aware of their situation. As soon as we have any further updates from the FCO I will ensure that your parents are updated,” Lesley told Edd.

Meanwhile, a Bishop’s Stortford couple who were stranded in Bali have returned home and are now in self-isolation. Pauline Bennett, 56, who ran out of chemotherapy medicine while on holiday with husband Steven, said she was relieved to be back in the UK.

Pauline and Steven Bennett (32734152)
Pauline and Steven Bennett (32734152)

She has a bone marrow disease and feared for her life after two flights home were cancelled, but finally arrived back on Sunday. “I’ve never experienced stress, anxiety and desperation on such a level,” she said.

She thanked staff at the British consulate in Bali for their help in finding flights home via Singapore, which cost the couple £4,600, but said the official advice for Britons stranded abroad was not useful.

“When the Government says ‘get home ASAP’, it’s no help when airlines cancel flights. They need to have a plan to get their nationals home,” she said.

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