"You feel guilty about being over there... we wanted to get back" - Answering Ireland's Call
"It almost looked as if the airport had been shrank down. It definitely felt different to coming off any normal flight."
Dublin Airport's Arrivals Hall is a sight to behold on most days. Tearful reunions, grandparents meeting grandchildren for the first time, holidaymakers eager to explore the best of what Ireland has to offer, weary travellers showing up in shorts and sandals that scream, 'Irish weather be damned!'
For the past few weeks, as Covid-19 took a firm foothold in the country, the airport has been eerily quiet. There are still approximately 40 flights - a mix of commercial and passenger - a day but that number represents 5% of the number of daily flights this time last year.
Last Monday, Shane Griffin and Emily Veale arrived back at Dublin Airport after two long-haul flights to get home from New Zealand. They had been at close quarters to other passengers heading back to Ireland and social distancing could only be observed when they disembarked.
There were no big welcomes and hugs, just yellow and black notices everywhere. They had arrived back to a seismically changed Ireland.
Answer Ireland's Call took off in late March when Irish businessman Neil Sands put the word out that he was willing to fly two doctors home to Ireland from anywhere in the world and sort accommodation for them in Dublin for 12 weeks. His tweet went viral and a movement was born.
As an Irish business owner, I am willing to fly 2 doctors home to #ireland from anywhere abroad, and house them in Dublin for the next 12 weeks. Who’s with me? (please retweet) DM me if you know someone interested. Thank you #irelandvscovid #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/4sgMPs3e7j
— Neil O. Sands (@neilosands) March 25, 2020
The initiative received a number of public donations through a Go Fund Me page and, according to their spokesperson, private donations have surpassed a six-figure total to date. The flights home for some 80 medics have been funded and those involved are now exploring how some of the money raised can be used to secure Personal Protective Equipment and face masks.
Shane Griffin and Emily Veale were two such healthcare professionals that have been able to get back home to do their bit thanks to Answering Ireland's Call.
The couple had been living and working in New Zealand for the best part of a year - Shane working as a locum doctor and Emily in an Auckland nursing home - and were planning on coming back to Ireland in late May. They had finished up the working part of their year-long trip and were travelling around the North Island in a camper van when Covid-19 forced a swift response from the New Zealand government.
"We both left work in March to travel and got the camper van... there was only a couple of cases in New Zealand at the time and we we went on a camping trip. We didn't have any coverage for a couple of days. When we came off the trip, we realised that the whole country was going into lockdown."
The couple cut their travels short and headed the five hours back from the Whanganui River to Auckland. New Zealand was going into a Level 4 full alert.
"By the time we had finished our camping trip, New Zealand was up to 50 cases, or so, and they decided to go into complete lockdown for four weeks, which I think was necessary."
"They were very strict about it too," Emily adds. "There were police everywhere and every place was deserted. Everyone was staying indoors. The police were constantly stopping cars and you had to have your ID on you too. Essential workers had to carry ID to show when you were going to work. If you had two people, or more, in your car, they would stop you and tell you there should be only one."
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, they say, was very clear with how she wanted the country to tackle the Covid-19 crisis and the government has come across as very transparent and informative. On Monday, Ardern said the country had won the community transmission battle with Covid-19.
Emily was able to resume work at the Auckland nursing home but Shane was forced to spin his wheels for a "frustrating" four weeks. He had signed up with a locum (cover) agency but many local medics had done the same, especially as many elective procedures and surgeries had been cancelled.
A job offer arrived just over a week ago but, by that stage, the couple had decided to head back to Ireland. Shane had spotted Answer Ireland's Call on Instagram and got in touch to see if there was a way of getting back home to pitch in.
"I had been getting so much information about Covid-19 in Ireland. There's no staff [in the nursing homes] so as people are getting sick. You do feel guilty about being over there. We wanted to get back."
Their original flight path home would have taken in Sydney, Singapore and London, with Singapore a virtual no-go area for travellers due to that country's stringent travel restrictions. They were put in touch with an Australian travel agent, who worked her magic and sorted the pair with alternative flights.
There was no time for proper goodbyes - even if they were allowed - and the homeward journey, via Doha, began.
Shane and Emily arrived back in Ireland last Monday (20 April), and they have been isolating in a house kindly offered up to them by a friend of Shane's family.
Within the 2 kilometre radius of their current lodgings, they can skirt by their parents' houses for a chat over the garden wall. It is far from perfect but it will do.
"We used to talk to them on Zoom, in New Zealand," says Shane, "so it's not much different since we got back. It's quite surreal."
Emily will go back to work in her old nursing home in Bray while Shane, a second year doctor, says: "I'm open and I'll take wherever they put me... even though I'm only a second year out, you do want to put your skills to good use."
Their work will begin in the coming days and both expect to be busy. There will be no more travelling for a while but when Ireland gets through the worst of this pandemic and life catches up with itself, they have unfinished business.
"We sadly missed out on the South Island," says Shane, "but it's an excuse to go back in the future."
For more on Answer Ireland's Call, or to donate, visit here.