Coronavirus: Kiwi experts eyeing the safe haven of home

Trump warns of ‘horrific’ toll in US as Japan looks to declare a state of emergency over rising coronavirus infections.

After witnessing his adopted home of New York become overrun by Covid-19, Kiwi entrepreneur Guy Horrocks packed up his things and brought his family home.

There was no chance of face to face client meetings. An immediate return to normality ruled out.

And with the dark clouds hovering for the foreseeable future, bidding goodbye to the Big Apple, the place he had called home for eight years, loomed as the only logical response.

New York-based entrepreneur Guy Horrocks, pictured here with his wife Rose Endean at an Anzac service at Rockefeller Centre, realise they will be home in New Zealand for at least 12 months as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Forking out “ridiculously high rent” to be locked inside one of the most expensive cities in the world, Horrocks ventured home a few weeks ago to run his software start-up online.

Now, he’s in self-isolating in a borrowed home on Waiheke Island, overwhelmed with gratitude for the sanctuary his home country offers.

“I suppose the overriding thing is that we feel lucky to be back in New Zealand.”

Expert New Zealanders who have returned home say New York (pictured) has shut down as a result of coronavirus.

Horrocks, who ran a monthly meet up for New York-based Kiwi entrepreneurs, says he’s not alone – anticipating a swarm of expats were now returning home.

“Over the past two weeks, people have realised that this thing could drag on for quite some time and will have a massive impact to everyone’s lives.

“They would have been weighing up where they want to be if they are going to be locked up in a house for months on end, so I think it’s definitely already happening,” Horrocks said.

A body wrapped in plastic that was unloaded from a refrigerated truck is handled by medical workers wearing personal protective equipment due to Covid-19 concerns at Brooklyn Hospital Center in Brooklyn, New York.

His experience in the US saw him add his name to an open letter from influential New Zealanders calling for extreme anti-coronavirus measures to be introduced, alongside the likes of Zuru founder Nick Mowbray and Sky TV founder Craig Heatley.

New Zealand’s response to the threat posed by Covid-19 has captured international attention, with the Washington Post praising New Zealand for not just flattening the curve, but “squashing it.”

Many of the estimated one million New Zealanders living abroad, which comprise one of the largest per capita diasporas in the world, are taking note. 

Guy Horrocks runs a monthly meeting for New Zealand entrepreneurs focussed on technology, design and social media, called the 'Flat White Meetup' at the Happy Bones, a Kiwi run cafe in Manhattan, New York.

Craig Donaldson, chief executive of the global expat network Kea New Zealand, said his organisation had seen a spike in enquiries over recent weeks from foreign-based Kiwis wanting to resettle in New Zealand.

While there were always New Zealanders wanting to head home, the global threat posed by Covid-19 had strengthened the pull back to Aotearoa.

“A third of Kiwis overseas are probably rattled by this, and think ‘New Zealand actually is a glimmer of hope compared to the rest of the world’.

Kea New Zealand chief executive Craig Donaldson says his organisation has witnessed a spike in enquiries from New Zealanders abroad looking to come home.

“They’re thinking, ‘I was going to come home next year or the following year, but actually this is my reason for pulling stumps early.’ There’s been quite a few [people] in that camp.​

“We always have the red carpet out for Kiwis coming back, but I think in this particular environment… we’re seeing a lot more enquiries,” Donaldson said. 

Another escapee from New York, business coach Nathan Seaward, left his adopted home bound for Auckland after seeing shop fronts boarded up, and hospitals over-run. 

Nathan Seaward has left his New York apartment to return to New Zealand this week, and he predicts more expats will do the same as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s actually changed in the last couple of weeks … as more and more people move back, you start to question ‘am I missing something?’ And so I think that is probably happening for a lot of people,” Seaward said.

With the prospect of the country’s borders being closed to contain the virus, Seaward said a lot of Kiwis would be questioning whether they would regret it if they didn’t head back now.

That’s despite having to spend at least two weeks in mandatory quarantine in one of 18 hotels upon their return, and having to comply with the Government-initiated alert level in force at the time after that.

“I was speaking to a woman in Vancouver and she wasn’t contemplating it at all, but her parents are here and she was thinking ‘if my parents get sick, and I can’t get home, I’ll feel terrible for the rest of my life’.

“‘I’d rather just be in New Zealand just in case, rather than be trapped overseas,'” Seaward said.

While it was a “50-50 decision” for him to come back, Seaward described feeling “a wave of relief” once he touched down in Auckland.

Expert network Kea New Zealand says there has been a surge in the number of overseas-based New Zealanders approaching it for advice about coming home in recent weeks.

In a typical year, around 33,000 New Zealanders migrate home. Last year, 34,069 expats ventured home, while a further 15,268 came home from Australia, Statistics New Zealand figures show.

The perception that New Zealand was a safe place would always attract expats home, Massey University distinguished professor and sociologist Paul Spoonley explained.

“In the wake of the Bali Bombings and Chernobyl [nuclear disaster], both of those events encouraged New Zealanders to think ‘where would they be safe to go and live’, and to particularly bring up a family.

“I think this is one of those moments where you really think ‘do I want to stay here? Should I be coming home?’ And thinking about establishing myself in New Zealand again,” Spoonley said.

One of the key issues for returning New Zealanders will be employment prospects, which are taking a huge hit due to the economic downturn.

Exporters have been left with product they can’t shift, retailers and hospitality outfits have been forced to close their doors indefinitely. Flagship companies like Air New Zealand are laying off thousands of staff.

Massey University distinguished professor Paul Spoonley says successive Australian governments have made it increasingly difficult for New Zealanders living there to access benefits and student loans.

While the wage subsidy has helped stem the pain for some employees and businesses, for many accessing this support was simply a stop-gap measure – a way of treading water while waiting out the lockdown.

Coronavirus could push unemployment levels into double digits – exceeding the impact of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

1 This chart shows the rate at which Covid-19 cases rise and fall, allowing us to compare the outbreak between countries. Most graphs are linear, meaning the numbers on the vertical axis increase steadily. With this graph, each interval on the vertical axis represents a 10-times increase. This is a better way to compare percentage changes. For instance, when case numbers double from 10 to 20 or from 100 to 200, they will be represented by the same vertical jump on the chart. This is useful for a country like New Zealand with a small population, because it allows us to see relative changes, without the graph being swamped by numbers in populous countries such as China.

Bagrie Economics managing director Cameron Bagrie predicted job hunting for returning expats over the next 12 months will be “hellishly tough”.

“New Zealand ticks a lot of boxes in terms of lifestyle, I think we’re a much safer jurisdiction than some other places around the globe, but the sticking point for a lot of people coming home is just income.

“If you come back to New Zealand, you are taking a big hit to your income. New Zealand’s per capita incomes, wages, are massively below other jurisdictions around the globe,” Bagrie said.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson, pictured with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, has promised the Government will do everything it can to support businesses, but unfortunately all won't survive.

Bagrie suspected, however, that many of the 600,000 New Zealanders living across the Tasman may find the grass is greener back home.

This especially rang true for those who couldn’t find work a result of Covid-19, as the Australian Government has resisted efforts from our officials to allow Kiwis benefit access for some time.

While Kiwis who lose their jobs as a result of coronavirus were now eligible for a ‘jobseeker’ wage subsidy worth $1530 a fortnight, most unemployed New Zealanders living there still can’t access financial assistance.

Bagrie Economics managing director Cameron Bagrie says predicts finding a job in the next 12 months will be "pretty hellishly tough".

After the GFC, Australia’s labour market outpaced New Zealand’s, prompting a Kiwi exodus of 71,585 to Australia in 2011 alone.

While it was too soon to make accurate comparisons, Professor Spoonley a similar scenario this time round was unlikely. 

“What has changed is that Australia is much less welcoming of New Zealanders,” he explained.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern praised a decision from the Scott Morrison's Australian government to allow some New Zealanders based there to access Covid-19 JobKeeper support.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern praised a decision from the Scott Morrison’s Australian government to allow some New Zealanders based there to access Covid-19 JobKeeper support.