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Australia Coronavirus border closures strand lovestruck couple 12,000km apart

18:19  26 march  2020
18:19  26 march  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a man and a woman smiling for the camera: Tanel Tamsalu and Catalina Padilla are separated by 12,000km of ocean. (Supplied: Tanel Tamsalu) © Provided by ABC NEWS Tanel Tamsalu and Catalina Padilla are separated by 12,000km of ocean. (Supplied: Tanel Tamsalu)

The visa was approved, the flight booked. A romantic Easter reunion in Australia was locked in. Then came COVID-19.

Long-distance love is hard at the best of times but for Tanel Tamsalu and Catalina Padilla, it's excruciating.

Their plan was to carve out a life for themselves in the picturesque country town of Griffith, in south-central New South Wales.

The pair, in their mid 20s, had fallen for each other and the town towards the end of 2019.

"He is a person who has his own effortless charm. He has the most kind, selfless soul," said Ms Padilla, who is from Chile.

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"Even in chaos, he always transmits peace. To me, he is pure magic."

They bonded over a shared experience — foreigners exploring regional Australia in search of new experiences and relationships.

They were equally as captivated by Australia as each other.

"I love Australian nature. People here are much happier," said Mr Tamsalu, who is from Estonia.

There was only one problem. Ms Padilla, a marketing engineer, was coming to the end of her tourist visa, prompting what was meant to be a brief return to her native Chile.

In February, she flew back to Santiago to sit an English test and was then approved for an Australian working holiday visa.

The reunion was booked for April 10.

But Ms Padilla's decision to return to Chile unwittingly put her at the mercy of the Australian Government's increasingly austere COVID-19 travel restrictions.

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Shutdown at the borders

On March 20, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia's borders would close to non-residents as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The decision was devastating for the pair. Their plans for an Easter reunion were scuppered.

"I was very excited because her flight back happened to be on the start of Easter so it's four days of public holiday," Mr Tamsalu said.

"I had already bought tickets to four different parties, and Airbnb. But that's not going to happen

The virus that emerged from Wuhan, China, has left them heartbroken.

The couple now find themselves on opposite sides of the globe, separated by 12,000 kilometres of ocean and an indefinite ban on non-residents entering Australia.

'I feel kind of empty'

Their relationship, which started as a spark on the dancefloor at the Area Hotel in Griffith, is now in limbo.

"We are going to stay connected through video calling until the situation gets better. At the moment it's hard to say how long it's going to take. Months at least," Mr Tamsalu said.

"I feel kind of empty, but at the same time I'm happy to have somebody thinking about me."

The 23-year old was drawn to Griffith by the promise of stable work on the many solar farms. After picking up some DJ gigs in local nightclubs, he's become ingrained in the region's vibrant Estonian expat community.

He longs for the day Ms Padilla will be able to join him in the place he calls home.

"I like her presence in my life, when I come back from work [to have] somebody waiting for me at home. It's just heart-warming to see her beautiful smile," he says.

"We are trying to stay positive about all this. That's one thing I like about her, she is always optimistic."

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