So the long flight home was a mix of relief and mounting anxiety about what we all would be facing on return to Australia. Chatting to a Aussie mate ‘in the know’ while in Bangkok, he verified for me that they weren’t nabbing incoming passengers from the airport and whisking them off the quarantine YET – this came as a massive relief as it also meant that I could get home before bunkering down for 14 days voluntary isolation.
What I wasn’t prepared for was how UNPREPARED Sydney Airport was for this crisis and how many people didn’t seem to be taking it very seriously at all.
I’ll document this as I saw it at the time.
Just before we swung around to line up and land at Sydney Airport, the captain announced that there would be “Australian Health and Border Force Officials boarding the plane on landing and could we all remain in our seats as there were several ill passengers that needed attention – Thanks you for flying Thai Airways blah blah blah…”
Lots of nervous looks and a whisper of multiple conspiracy theories began to circulate.
“They have it!!”…”Where are they?” …”shit only a few rows in front”…”We’re all going to get tested/renditioned/quarantined” etc etc. As the plane landed you could sense the tension in the air, and as the masked officials came on board and escorted an elderly couple off the plane everyone was kind of puzzled as to what was going on. So we waited.
There wasn’t even that routine bug spray decontamination that they do, which was odd.
Finally we were all allowed to disembark, and as we walked up the tunnel, were guided by masked and surgical gowned personnel along the way towards Immigration, past the E-Passport machines and asked to line up to the side near the old Passport Counters for some old school processing. Photocopied Isolation Declaration card and Department of Health advisories were handed out for us to fill in as we stood in the line, crammed up against each other as we were herded in like cattle in a crush.
Wheres all this bloody Social Distancing????? WTF is going on here?
I checked out the form : yep sure enough it was asking for the self isolation details, name address, flight details – awesome! Exactly what I was expecting. Dire warning of penalties and the like.
Reading on I noticed 3 small numbered points at the bottom, Number 2 being “Completion of this card is voluntary”.
OK. Thats odd. Isn’t this important? I thought.
I’d already made my 14 day self isolation plans, so I filled in the form and waited for my enhanced Health Check. I wonder what that would entail?
Wandering past a few younger Airport staff that seemed to be holding the Isolation Declaration cards, I offered them mine but the shook their heads and gestured for me to keep walking.
Being one of the first off the plane (joys of carry-on only travel), I shuffled along the cattle crush to the end of the line quickly and held up my Isolation Declaration card – which he ignored – the guy simply asked me “How are you feeling?”
I blinked a few times. “100%” I managed (and might have even gave him a thumbs up)
“Right…off you go then…” said my Enhanced Health check guy, pointing to the Passport counter.
Huh? Is that it?
Feeling like I was in “Life Of Brian” and I’d just told him I was Jesus of Nazareth on the way to the crucifixion, I shuffled over to the password counter just as a stern but attractive dark haired Border Force lady was trying to explain to an incoming Japanese man that he “couldn’t just go into the city and go shopping while he waits for his plane”.
Her frustration was extremely apparent as I stepped up, making sure not to stand too close and keeping my mask on as I handed her my passport and stepped back to the line (She didn’t have a mask, by the way)
“Where have you come from? she asked, glancing at my passport with some measure of annoyance for some reason.
Man, she was a cranky one. And hot. But mainly cranky.
‘Northern Thailand via Bangkok’ I said, again trying to project a smile through my black serious-as-fuck face mask. *This doesn’t work at all I’ve decided.
She looked up and glared. “Mask?”
I looked confused.
“Does your passport photo have you wearing a mask?” she asked with levels of sarcasm that I thought only I could achieve.
“Sorry” I blurted, and fumbled my mask off, accidentally tangling and knocking the glasses off my face as well. I put them straight back on.
She glared at me again. “Does your passport photo have you wearing glasses?”
I was instantly bright red, sweating, and a little bit in love.
“Sorry” I stammered out, doing an amazing Christopher Reeve/Clark Kent impression while fumbling my glasses off again.
It didn’t impress.
She looked over my shoulder and her annoyance (impossibly) increased 100 fold as she gestured to someone behind me and pointed over my shoulder.
“Look in the camera” she said, not even bothering to make eye contact now …tappity tap tap tap…STAMP…”ok have a good afternoon…I mean morning – Christ…<shaking her head> (it was 7.30am)”
“Haha feels like afternoon already doesn’t it” I wittily shot back as I walked through the barrier towards Customs, waving my declaration like a white flag of surrender.
Doesn’t anyone want this damn form? I though, looking at the now fairly useless Isolation declaration form in my hand.
Walking though the ‘Nothing to declare” I asked the Customs lady if it was ok that I had Peanut M&Ms in my bag: she just rolled her eyes at me and said “Line 8”
Line 8 led straight out into the Arrival Hall, and I wandered out wondering if this was a trick, or was someone going to jump out and take this form from me at some stage, or chase me out like the Thai Immigration girl had to get me to fill it in?
Nope – nothing.
Look, I’d taken all the recommended precautions and then some for the past two weeks and then doubled down on the plane. My plan was to stay away from people, touch nothing, catch my domestic flight back to Dubbo (REX showing no sign of social distancing with their seat allocations mind you) ,
and check into my little hotel room for 14 days and see how it all pans out. That to me seemed like a solid plan that went completely smoothly, and in what seemed like no time at all I was standing in the reception of the Ibis Budget hotel in Dubbo checking in to my little temporary prison cell.
That was Thursday the 26th march.
Since then, the Australian Covid-19 shitshow has just got real.
Australians had been behaving badly and controls were long overdue.
Theres an APP now for registering your Self Isolation (all done), and Symptom Checkers and advice galore. It’s actually quite amazing what this government can do when it pulls its finger out of its ass.
Not 48 hours after I landed, Australia started grabbing people from International flights and cruise ships and placing them in mandatory and policed 14 day isolation. Old and young alike forced into quarantine in hotels across the country. Gatherings of more than two people were banned, further restrictions on businesses and the public were enacted as the Government got serious – FINALLY.
Today, its Day 5 of my voluntary quarantine. 11 days to go. I’m not crazy yet nor am I inspired terribly to write or create. I’m all over social media (gotta stop that), texting my friends like a OCD weirdo, and picking away on the little Taylor, getting on top of a few acoustic Nirvana songs (lucky the hotel is almost empty). SBSChill on TV is the soundtrack to my day, and I only check the 6.30 ABC news briefing to see what’s happening in the day.
Too much news causing too much stress.
I have a few hand weights and have made several half hearted attempts to exercise, but I’m finding that the last few sleeping pills i pocketed from Scott Base (gone now) have had me sleeping from 10pm until 11am each day – feeling massively refreshed to be honest after so much deep healing sleep. Last night was a change of weather and rain showers so the usual restless night marred by stress nightmares and loads of tossing and turning.
Most people I’ve been speaking/texting to are in the same rocking boat of uncertainty on the same stormy pandemic sea.
It hasn’t been too bad and I’m finally in the right mindset to just go with it – the isolation is actually quite comforting and its more the lack of being able to walk or move much that’s getting to me (going from 20kms + a day to nothing again is not fun). Getting a budget hotel wasn’t an awesome idea in hindsight – the room is 4mx4m and feels TINY but luckily has a window that the hotel management unlocked for me so at least i can get fresh air. My sister did a few supply and bag drops for me, so I have clothes and my guitar (and PLENTY of time).
All in all plenty of time to ponder the future and what it holds. At this stage, its anybody’s guess. I have a signed contract at this stage, so I have to believe that this pandemic will wind down by mid August to allow me to travel to New Zealand for training and deployment. If that can happen, then I’m checking outta this crazy-assed world for 13 months.
*Actually have a sore throat and dry cough today – have a Telehealth call with a GP at 3pm to see if its worth bringing me in for testing or not. Let’s see how that pans out shall we.
** This was nothing as it luckily turns out, and an alarming circle jerk from Dubbo medicos that had them 1) tell me to break quarantine to be tested as I was “High Risk” and walk down to a 5pm appointment at a Medical Centre which after waiting on the footpath for half and hour discovered was 2) the wrong medical centre and then have the Dr call me back irate 20 minutes later and 3) refuse to deal with me because they though I was a woman on the phone and 4) tell me that Id have to find another Dr to swab me and he (the Dr) was going home and that he wished me luck – then hung up, then 5) get a call from his Supervisor three hours later at 8pm (he is a trainee Dr) telling me that he shouldn’t have done what he did and 6) they couldn’t test me at the medical centre anyway and couldn’t help me but that 7) I had to call the government hotline number who would arrange for testing but 8) when I ring them, find that they are just a call centre and have the lady tell me that my symptoms weren’t severe enough to be tested and call them when they got worse and that they didn’t arrange for testing anyway and 8) I’d have to go up to the Dubbo Base Hospital Drive-In Clinic which 9) I couldn’t as I don’t have a car and I cant catch a taxi or put anyone at risk so I’m 10) fucked.
Jesus F. Christ.