In a nutshell: Being trapped in another country for months on end might not sound appealing, but when that country is New Zealand, which has had some of the world's lowest Covid-19 infection and death figures, it's not as bad. Just ask Valve boss Gabe Newell, who's so grateful to the nation for having him during the pandemic he's putting on a free concert.
New Zealand has long been a favorite backup plan for billionaires who buy land as a form of "apocalypse insurance." Peter Thiel, who has named at least five of his companies in reference to The Lord of the Rings, owns a 193-hectare estate on the shores of Lake Wanaka and has been granted New Zealand citizenship.
Newell didn't travel to the country to escape Covid-19. He was taking a ten-day break with Alex Riberas and the Spanish racing driver's partner, Teagan Klein, back in March after shipping Half-Life: Alyx, but the pandemic broke out during their visit, and "we had 48 hours to decide before New Zealand closed their border, and we decided to stay," said Klien. "It's five months later now and here we are, happy as ever."
Newell agreed: "For me it’s very much about the community spirit, the sense that everybody can come together and solve this super challenging problem and then be welcoming to us, essentially as Covid refugees [...] there’s the natural beauty, there’s all the fun stuff you can do, but it’s the people that have made our lives different."
New Zealand has recorded just 1,555 cases of Covid-19 and 22 deaths related to the virus. The country hasn't recorded a new infection from an unknown source in over 75 days. Apart from border restrictions and quarantines, life has returned to relative normality—no social distancing—unlike the US.
"When I talk to people back in Seattle it's a very strange time, it's very challenging. They're very isolated, they aren't able to go out and take advantage of the environment that New Zealand has created itself and visitors like us," said Newell, on the TV spot.
To thank the country, the trio has put together a free event called 'We Love Aotearoa' on August 15 in Auckland. It will consist of live music, workshops and activities, virtual reality stands, art installations, and food trucks.
"These events are a thank you to the people of New Zealand for being so kind and welcoming, and also an acknowledgment of the hard work that 'the team of 5 million' have gone through to get us to where we are now," states the event page.