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New Hampshire Woman Rides Out The Pandemic In New Zealand


Every one of us has a story about how the pandemic changed our lives. Here's one, a woman gets stuck in New Zealand when the country closes its borders and decides to just make the best of it, told by New Hampshire Public Radio's Todd Bookman.

TODD BOOKMAN, BYLINE: Carol Clapp splits her year in half. In the warmer months, she lives on a family farm in Epping in southern New Hampshire. Then she heads to New Zealand, a small town called Riverton on the South Island. We connected through a Zoom call from her back porch.

CAROL CLAPP: There are birds (laughter). And that's a gum tree, eucalyptus, behind me.

BOOKMAN: Carol and her husband first visited New Zealand in 1978. Then their son decided to go to college there.

CLAPP: And we ended up buying a house. And David and I have - well, he died five years ago. But we came down here for the past 19 years.

BOOKMAN: So she was on her own when COVID exploded last March. And she couldn't leave.

CLAPP: New Zealand immigration wasn't letting anybody leave the country or come into the country because they take the virus very seriously here. And so they gave all of us stranded tourists, visitor types, six month extension on our visas.

BOOKMAN: And then another extension. Carol has been able to ride out the pandemic in a country that instituted and, she's quick to point out, followed strict public health guidelines.

CLAPP: They're very well behaved here.

BOOKMAN: Within months, New Zealand basically stamped out COVID. Today, there's almost no community spread. And when there is, they act.

CLAPP: Was it two weeks ago - three people tested positive, and they closed down the whole city of Auckland? I mean, would we do that in the United States if three people tested positive?

BOOKMAN: No, we wouldn't. But even if the virus is not in the air there, it is still a frequent topic of conversation amongst Carol and her New Zealand friends. Specifically, they ask her, what's gone so wrong in the U.S.?

CLAPP: They were very concerned. In general, they were grateful to be here and very concerned that the United States had such a weak response to the COVID situation that got so out of control and that the country is so divided. They just hope the United States gets through this.

BOOKMAN: Aside from the occasional lockdown, life in New Zealand has basically returned to normal. Carol says hardly anyone wears masks. She's taking art classes. She gardens and, turns out, she's had company.

CLAPP: I got a boyfriend out of the (laughter) lockdown. And Al is my new man. And he just takes really good care of me. And I've been having a wonderful time during this terrible crisis. And...

BOOKMAN: Can I ask how you met Al?

CLAPP: Well, yeah. I picked him up in a bar, talked - (laughter) I picked him up. I've never picked a man up before. But I just could not leave this guy alone (laughter).

BOOKMAN: Carol Clapp, a 73-year-old widow from New Hampshire, has been having herself a pretty good pandemic. New Zealand is ending its visa extensions. So in a few weeks, she's finally coming back home. She's scheduled for a vaccination in April. And then, Carol hopes, this fall, she'll head back to New Zealand to see Al.

For NPR News, I'm Todd Bookman.

(SOUNDBITE OF KORESMA'S "BRIDGES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.