New Zealand blocking pregnant reporter from coming home

(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

Charlotte Bellis is a reporter and a native of New Zealand who has been covering the news from some very dangerous places for quite some time. She is also pregnant. And she is stuck in Kabul, Afghanistan. Unlike the many Americans and helpers who are still there, Bellis was not “left behind” during the disastrous American pullout. She stayed willingly to continue covering the news including, ironically, the plight of women and children in the country under the Taliban. But now, as her due date is approaching, she needs to go home to be with her family and her healthcare providers. But she can’t, because she has been unable to jump through all of the paperwork hoops that the New Zealand government is imposing before allowing one of its own citizens to enter the country for a pressing medical situation. (Associated Press)

She reported on the difficult conditions mothers and babies face just to survive in desperate Afghanistan. Now, a pregnant New Zealand reporter has chosen Kabul as a temporary base for her uphill fight to return home because of her country’s strict COVID-19 entry rules.

Charlotte Bellis, 35, is expecting her first child with her partner, freelance photographer Jim Huylebroek, a Belgium native who has lived in Afghanistan for two years. Bellis, who is 25 weeks pregnant with a daughter, told The Associated Press on Sunday that each day is a battle.

She said she has been vaccinated three times and is ready to isolate herself upon her return to New Zealand. “This is ridiculous. It is my legal right to go to New Zealand, where I have health care, where I have family. All my support is there,” she said.

Bellis’ situation has been complicated by the fact that she and the father of her child are not married. He’s a citizen of Belgium and she tried to move there, but the process would have taken so long that her visa would have expired. Also, she had to quit working for her former employer, Al Jazeera, because that outlet is based in Qatar where it is illegal to be pregnant and unmarried.

The reporter’s conclusion that the situation is “ridiculous” seems warranted and accurate. New Zealand operated for nearly two years on the “zero-tolerance COVID policy,” locking down its citizens more harshly than nearly any other country on the planet. They completely closed their tourist industry and made travel in and out of the country almost impossible. And for a while, it actually worked. They had one of the lowest infection and mortality rates of any nation. But last October, they finally seemed to realize that they couldn’t lock out the virus forever and would move to a strategy of mass vaccinations like everyone else.

Unfortunately, that more rational conclusion didn’t seem to include loosening the travel restrictions for those entering the country, even for their own citizens. As a citizen, you would think that Charlotte Bellis could simply get on a plane and go home. But she needs to “qualify” to be able to return. She received her last rejection this weekend, with the government saying that her application had been denied because she failed to meet the criteria of “threshold of critical time threat.”

Now she’s being told that she will need to apply yet again under the premise of being a “person in danger.” Seriously? She’s in Kabul. Everyone there is in danger. Even if she does manage to get permission this week and fly home, she won’t be able to go see her family. She will need to go into an enforced quarantine location for two weeks. (Something she has already said she is willing to do.)

What is going on in New Zealand? Has COVID caused everyone in the government to collectively lose their minds on a permanent basis? This is one of your own citizens facing a medical crisis in a faraway land controlled by terrorists. Bring her home.