Covid 19 coronavirus: Friends become family at Christmas as Covid-19 keeps families apart

When French-born Frederique Irion sensed she couldn’t return to France for Christmas this year, she suggested to her Iranian-born husband that they host a Christmas lunch at his Parnell restaurant for friends also stuck here.

About 50 people comprising at least 14 nationalities turned up for the party at Reza Sarkheil’s restaurant Rumi in Parnell on Christmas Day.

Irion, 33, and her husband would normally spend Christmas with her family in Strasbourg, but their plans were thwarted this year by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Christmas is a special time to be with family, and after a particularly tough year it is hard to not be able to spend the festive season with your nearest and dearest,” she said.

“We are lucky enough to be living in New Zealand where we are not in lockdown or facing tight restrictions, so I thought it would be nice to bring our friends and their families together for a Christmas lunch.”

As Covid-19 cases continue to spike across the world, thousands of New Zealanders and migrants have had their Christmas travel plans dashed.

Lucas Gougeon, 37, director of food and beverage at Cordis, and his wife Pearly, 34, are on temporary visas and face the risk of not being able to return should they leave New Zealand.

Pearly was due to return to Singapore and had hoped to spend Christmas with her 95-year-old grandfather, who is unwell. This is the first time the mother of two will be away from her family at Christmas.

“Don’t talk to me about it or I’ll cry,” Pearly said, when asked how she was feeling.

“My Christmas wish is just for the world to have some normality again.”

Paris-born Gougeon said Christmas was “an important family time” in his native France, where celebrations would start on Christmas Eve and go on for days.

“We would have escargot, foie gras and the finest champagne, but most importantly it will always be centred around the family,” Gougeon said.

“Pearly was so looking forward to go home to show our new 4-month-old baby Louie to her family, but it looks like we will be stranded here.”

The couple are friends with Sarkheil and Irion, and were thrilled to have been invited to the Christmas lunch.

“One positive thing from Covid-19 is that it has turned friends into our new family, and it will make new memories for us,” Gougeon said.

Brazilian Anna Bonecher, 26, a waitress at Rumi, said she was missing her family and was worried about the coronavirus situation in her country.

There have been nearly 7.4 million cases of Covid-19 in Brazil according to data from state governments, and 189,220 people have died as of Christmas Eve.

“Today’s Christmas lunch is different, but it is good to take my mind away from what is happening back home.”

Bonecher said her usual family Christmas celebrations involved large gatherings of up to 60 people with “big feasting and drinking”.

Raised a Catholic, she said Christmas time was always a special time for her.

Other nationalities at the lunch include Indonesian, Egyptian, Iranian, Romanian, Sudanese and Afghanistani.

The pandemic has altered celebrations across Europe, India, Russia and across the Americas due to widespread infections.

With just 51 active cases in New Zealand mostly from isolation facilities, there are few restrictions but strict border restrictions for international travellers remain.

As a result of the travel ban, families will have to remain apart but people within the country are able to celebrate together.

An estimated 5700 New Zealanders have also spent Christmas Day in managed isolation or quarantine.

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