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Ex-Hills Road Sixth Form students stranded in New Zealand during coronavirus lockdown




A group of former students of Hills Road Sixth Form in Cambridge on a gap year have been left stranded in New Zealand after the country went into level four lockdown because of the coronavirus.

The former Hills Road students with friends. Picture: Tilly Thompson
The former Hills Road students with friends. Picture: Tilly Thompson

Tilly Thompson, Max Mitham, Sam Arnold, Harry Zhao and Harry Will, aged 18 and 19, are stuck in an Airbnb in Christchurch with few planes home and prices rocketing from £1,550 a ticket to £8,000 on Qatar Airways’ website.

They are situated close to the airport in case a flight is listed at short notice but could lose their accommodation. Everything is in lockdown until at least April 8 in New Zealand, with internal flights restricted or cancelled.

Tilly and her friends, hadsaved up all year for the trip of a lifetime and planned to visit Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

Now they have been left worried sick - and despite emails to the UK government, they are no closer to getting a flight back to England.

Tilly Thompson, Max Mitham, Sam Arnold, Harry Zhao and Harry Will. Picture: Tilly Thompson
Tilly Thompson, Max Mitham, Sam Arnold, Harry Zhao and Harry Will. Picture: Tilly Thompson

The 19-year-old told the Cambridge Independent: “We just want to go home. We’ve all come to Christchurch. The next available flight we’ve been told by our travel company is June 30. So all the money we had saved for our gap year we have had to use on moving around the country. All the hostels are closed so we are having to get Airbnbs. When we’ve contacted the government all you get back is an email with their travel recommendations and that is mainly ‘Get home as soon as possible’.

“Our parents don’t worry too much - they are trying to keep calm. They are calling everyone, but they feel they are going round in circles. We all came out here so excited we never ever thought we would not be able to get home. It never crossed my mind.

The former Hills Road students are on a gap year. Picture: Tilly Thompson (32622166)
The former Hills Road students are on a gap year. Picture: Tilly Thompson (32622166)

“It is hard emotionally. You are constantly looking on your phone reading the news and Twitter. It is constant worry about what will happen next. It is like a waiting game. We have no clue what is going to happen.

“The only real option is to get a government flight back. But we cannot pay £8,000 to get a ticket back home. Nothing changes for the better at the moment.”

A petition on Change.org calling on the British government to repatriate UK citizens stranded in New Zealand has been signed by more than 17,000 people.

Other residents of the Cambridge area are known to be stranded in Peru, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and Portugal, and are among an estimated one million people trying to return to the UK since the coronavirus outbreak.

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