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New Zealand Family Hosts 4 German Students During Lockdown

Foreign tourists wait to be checked by German Embassy staff at Christchurch Airport terminal as they prepare to check in for a charter flight back to Germany via Vancouver from Christchurch, New Zealand, Monday, April 6, 2020.

Four German students who were invited to shelter with a New Zealand family during a nationwide lockdown say they've been having lots of fun sharing meals, playing soccer and trying to learn guitar.

And their host family says the unexpected guests have been equally enriching for their three children, as they spend the nights together roasting marshmallows or playing cards.

The students had planned to be traveling around the country when New Zealand imposed the lockdown nearly two weeks ago in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

They are among 12,000 German visitors who have signed up for a repatriation program on flights chartered by the German government. The students are waiting each day to hear word on when they will leave after the charter flights began last week.

"The weather's really nice here and the people are friendly, too," said student Thomas Metzler. "And we've got a big property, so we can do things. We're not just locked in a little room."

The rural home is located near Cambridge on the North Island. In New Zealand it's known as a lifestyle property — smaller than a farm but big enough to have sheep and chickens running around. And they can walk down to a river.

Metzler and Felix Gard, both 23, are final year veterinarian students and had spent a month working with horses near Cambridge under the tutelage of New Zealand veterinarian Kate Dingemans. The pair were then joined by girlfriends Laura Spottke, 22, and Julia Betz, 23, for a planned month of travel.

But as they began their travels, the virus situation deteriorated. Metzler said they wanted to leave but the only flights they could find were prohibitively expensive.

"And so, yeah, we decided to stay in New Zealand and wait for what's happening," he said. "Find a place to stay while in lockdown."

Dingemans had remained in touch with the students and insisted they come stay with her family.

"I didn't want to think they would be stuck somewhere," she said. "It's really added value to our lives."

Gard said they've been hearing on the news about people all over the world who have been suffering, including some German tourists in New Zealand.

"It's a big problem for them to find a place to stay," he said. "So we're really lucky."

Still, all of them are eager to get back home and see their families again.

New Zealand has recorded 1,160 cases of the coronavirus, including one death. About 40% of the cases have been linked to overseas travelers returning home, and the country has so far avoided a major local outbreak.