British traveller who went to Tonga at start of pandemic is still there nearly 18 months later

British traveller who went to Tonga at start of pandemic is still there nearly 18 months later

A British traveller who went to Tonga for a weekend at the start of the coronavirus pandemic is still there almost 18 months later.

Zoe Stephens, 27, a traveller who is originally from Merseyside but was living in China, decided to go for a weekend away to Tonga to escape talk about the virus but got stuck there for longer than she expected due to restrictions placed both in Tonga and the UK.

Speaking to CNN Travel, she said she thought Tonga would be case free due to its small population but when she arrived she was placed in a three-week lockdown to avoid cases.

She then soon realised she would not be able to return to China, and while there were a few flights to the UK during the period, they coincided with times in which cases in the UK were high so she decided not to. This has meant she has missed her grandmother’s funeral.

Stephens has been house sitting for a family who cannot return to Tonga and studying for a master’s degree in international communications. Aside from that, she said her life there was “boring”.

She said: “I’ve tried to make the most of it but I think one of the most difficult things was people in the UK, constantly telling me ‘You’re so lucky.’”

“I wake up every morning, and I see the beach and I see the island and it’s great, but I wasn’t enjoying it. I was being told that I should be really enjoying it, and I was like ‘I don’t want to be here though.’”

If she had known in March 2020 that she would still be in the country now, she said she would have got a job or learned the local language.

Stephens is due to return to the UK at the end of August and said leaving will be “bittersweet” but “nothing is real here”.

“People say, ‘how can you leave a paradise island. And I’m like, ‘it’s great here. but it’s not my real life.’”

Speaking about her potential return to the UK, she said she had “anxiety” about travelling.

She said: “I do worry about what will happen if I go back and then everything shuts down again and everyone’s in lockdown, and I’ll think ‘I should have stayed on the island.’”

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