Australia Woman who arrived in Australia on coronavirus repatriation flight recounts 'emotional' journey

22:52  27 october  2020
22:52  27 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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I didn't really believe I would be going home until I got on the plane and heard the flight attendant say "g'day".

It sounds so silly, but I got emotional.

I thought, "This is happening, I'm actually going home."

The flight was just like a normal one except we had to put everything we touched in a biohazard bag — the plastic trays that our food came on, forks, knives, cups and bottles — absolutely anything we touched pretty much had to go in these biohazard bags to be burned later.

After landing at RAAF Base Darwin, we were taken into a room where we had to go through health screening again, passport and luggage checks — all the normal things for international arrivals.

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I had mentally prepared for the change in temperature coming from the UK to the October Darwin heat, but I was dripping with sweat.

I was still carrying a woolly hat, a coat and blankets and I was bundling it all in my arms. Just touching my coat was making me nauseous. Get away from me!

My temporary home

We were taken on buses to the Howard Springs [quarantine] camp and had another COVID test. I was one of the last people through and all the staff were just still so lovely, even though they'd been doing hours of testing in the heat.

At Howard Springs, we've all got little cabins, with an en suite and a little desk, which is great. The rooms are small, but they're clean and nice and have a fridge and kettle.

As international arrivals, we have our own little section and a little verandah we can sit on. We have to wear a mask out there, but we were allowed 20 minutes exercise today, and the staff have been really lovely.

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We've all been so surprised with the food. It's delicious! This morning we had fruit: mango, strawberry and passionfruit.

We are allowed to chat as long as we've got masks on and the social interaction is so good. I cannot emphasise how nice it is to hear everybody else's stories and just be sharing in the face of suffering.

The girl next door, she had the exact same thing happen as me: her mum had cancer, so she had to go back overseas.

There was a lady over the other side whose mum died of cancer too.

My story is similar — I left Australia at the end of July to see my terminally ill father in the UK for the last time.

My aim was to spend time with Dad

I was born and grew up in the UK and Dad lived in Leeds in Northern England.

Melbourne has been my home for several years. I work there and share a flat in the city's south-east with my partner and a super small and sassy Pomeranian called Pickle.

Back in July, I knew something was wrong when Dad started dodging my calls. He had done the same thing the last time he was sick.

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He eventually rang back and said: "It's back. It's inoperable."

I did have a moment of doubt about flying overseas to see Dad.

I've had so many great memories with him, he was the most supportive dad in the world, he was so proud of me and my brother. Did I want to tarnish that by seeing him — at the age of 59 — in such a horrible state?

I decided to go. I left Melbourne at the end of July.

Once I arrived, we realised Dad was going to survive a little longer than the few weeks the doctors originally estimated.

I found accommodation, but as the weeks went on it was getting expensive.

I have a job in Melbourne — which I'll go back to — but I couldn't work remotely with the time difference.

I considered returning to Australia, but I couldn't get a flight.

Dad died at the end of September.

We had a wake, which was restricted to 15 people. It was just our family. It was just mischief and drinking and being silly. It definitely would have had Dad's approval.

Quite a few people have said, "At least you got back to see him and that's so good". But I don't think they realise the difficulty of those last few months of cancer treatment.

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Dad was bedridden, he couldn't go outside, he could barely eat and he became non-verbal. I did have some beautiful moments with him, but it was really difficult as well.

Then my flight was cancelled

After Dad died, I just wanted to get home because it had been a very emotionally taxing couple of months.

But I began to realise that could be difficult.

I'd booked one flight in October, but it was cancelled. I managed to rebook another for not long after.

But the travel agents were saying the next available flights — the ones that would actually travel — would not be until December or January.

I'd registered with DFAT [the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] to say that I wanted to come home, and I got a compassionate exemption to re-enter Australia, as I'm in Australia on a partner, not a permanent, visa.

When I heard about the repatriation flights, I did not expect to be called. I hoped [the flights] would free up capacity on a commercial flight and help me get a spot on one of them.

Then DFAT called me and offered me a spot on a flight that was leaving in less than a week's time. I was pretty lucky.

The whole DFAT process was chaotic. There were so many variables that could have gone wrong. I had to make it to the airport on time and return a negative COVID test.

I decided I would not cancel my other flight before I was back safely on Australian soil.

I understand the Government is in a difficult position with international arrivals.

I think the repatriation flights are a godsend, but lifting the caps and letting people come home would also be a huge help.

The airlines are prioritising first and business class, and fair enough, to make it as financially viable as possible.

But it's leaving those who are more vulnerable without the chance to return.

Even the repatriation flight wasn't cheap. It ended up being around $2,500 for the flight, and $2,500 for Howard Springs quarantine, so $5,000 all up.

Throughout this whole time, all I wanted was to be able to hug my partner and now I'm so close. I'm really looking forward to that and fluffing my dog up.

I'm feeling OK.

And the sunshine is beautiful here, so that's always a huge help.

[Hearken embed]

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usr: 0
This is interesting!