By a Czech-born Australian lady whose name is known to me
I have chosen to write this article mainly to let people around the world know the truth about what is happening in Australia. It is written according to the truth and my personal experience, nothing is second hand.
As of today (September 2021) Australia has had its borders with the outside world sealed for 18 months. With a few breaks, the borders between states are also closed. There are concrete roadblocks on the roads and not a mouse can slip through the police. Some families live only a few kilometres apart and have not seen each other for months. A single positive case of covid is often enough to lock down millions of people. Vaccination is moving forward at a snail's pace, we have nowhere to rush when there is hardly any covid. When the delta variant appeared in Sydney this June, there was a rush to vaccinate, but again there was nothing to vaccinate. The community is divided into two groups, the first is happy that the borders are closed, they don't travel anywhere anyway and it doesn't affect them in any way. The other group is furious. Australia is one of the most multicultural countries, at least half the people have family and relatives abroad. I'm in that group.
My mother is seriously ill and unfortunately doesn't have much time left. After waiting endlessly for a miracle that the borders would finally open, I came to the epiphany that I had been waiting in vain. This is going to go on for a long time. Not only is no one allowed into Australia, but no one is allowed out! Anyone wishing to leave must seek permission from the local authorities. The first time, my permit was refused. A dying mother is not a good enough reason to travel. Yet one of the exceptions is a compassionate reason. Only after appealing and attaching a medical report confirming the diagnosis and proof that my own mother is indeed my relative was I granted a pardon. Only, again, there were no airline tickets to be had. What the hell, there would have been room from Australia to Europe, even at a reasonable price, but there would have been no way back. So I prayed that my mother would hold out and, with the help of a travel agent, waited for a return ticket. The reason is that anyone returning from abroad (or even from another Australian state) has to undergo a forced 14-day quarantine at a place designated by the government. Most often this is a hotel guarded by the state police. This means that places are very limited and each state only has a certain number of people it can accept each day. So, in a huge plane that can hold 500 people, there are no more than 15 passengers.
After a month or so of waiting, I finally found a ticket for my return flight. In addition to the usual preparations for the trip, I also made copies of my travel permit, my vaccination certificate and my arrival card to the Czech Republic. No one could tell me if I needed to have a PCR test before I travelled, so I decided to get one just in case. The problem is that the result can't be more than 3 days old, but it usually takes 2-3 days for the lab to send it. That was nerve wracking. Saturday morning, 6 hours before my flight, I finally printed the result. Ugh!
My family drove me to the airport in Brisbane. Our car was the only one turning into the departure lounge, and the only one parked there. Police everywhere. After questioning what we were doing there and showing my ticket, I said goodbye to my husband and kids with a bad feeling and tears in my eyes. Hopefully I'll see them again... The check-in process was never ending, with every brave official checking everything, even calling immigration again to see if we really had permission to leave the country. It was like going back in time to the communist years. After hours of waiting, I went through passport control into the darkened departure hall. All the shops closed, chairs on tables, only the barest of lights on to keep the lobby from being completely dark. Like in some apocalyptic movie, I thought. I was flying with Qatar Airlines. The only airline that hasn't given up flying to Australia. There weren't many of us, each passenger had a row of seats to themselves, so it was a long but comfortable flight.
24 hours later we landed in Prague. What a difference! People everywhere, shops open, just lively. Without any questions about whether I was vaccinated, where I was flying from, if I had any symptoms of covid, I went through passport control and hugged my dad. The joy of finally being here again after a long time, the freedom from Australian bullying. People can travel, they can go to concerts, they can visit each other, they can almost live a normal life!
But my joy was short-lived. A week after arriving in Prague, Qatar sent me an email that they were cancelling my return ticket. I felt sick to my stomach. So here it is, my nightmare has come true. Now I'm stuck here like tens of thousands of other Australians around the world who have been trying in vain for months to return to their country. Horrified, I emailed my agent, who called me back to say that even he couldn't understand how Qatar could just cancel my ticket, which I had confirmed and paid for. Unfortunately, we found out that the Australian government had once again reduced the already low numbers of people allowed to return, and I, because I was supposed to fly economy class, was cut out as one of the first. It's unethical and unfair, but there's nothing you can do about it in the current situation. The agent advised me that my only chance of returning early was to pay an extra 5300 Australian dollars (about 90 000 CZK) for business class on top of my already quite expensive ticket. And that he had found the only available seat for 31 October and I should grab it immediately, otherwise he couldn't guarantee I'd get back before Christmas. It was only August!!! I had a total meltdown. How do I explain this at work? How do we tell the kids? The youngest is only six, what, they're going to be without their mum for three whole months? It was supposed to be a three-week trip and it still seemed long to them... Plus, no one can guarantee that the flight at the end of October won't be cancelled again. Terrible situation. For the next few days, I was on the phone and on email, asking for help from everyone who could (and should!) help me: the Australian government, the embassy (I have dual citizenship), politicians in my place of Australian residence, the press, the media... I even wrote a letter to the Australian Prime Minister, who is the most senior person after the British Queen. I thought to myself, someone MUST help me. After all, I would never fly without a return ticket, I knew it would be risky. After a while, I realized that no one wanted to help me except my agent. Our Australian government certainly didn't. It doesn't care what situation tens of thousands of its citizens are in because of its nonsensical regulations. That they are often penniless, homeless and without any hope that their situation will change any time soon. In the eyes of the government, we brought this on ourselves, after all, we were told to sit at home on our arses. So now we have it. Even now this injustice makes me want to vomit.
I have joined a Facebook group called Australians stuck around the world. I was amazed that this group has nearly 18,000 members! The official number of people who are trying in vain to return home is much higher, about 38,000 as of today. After reading the posts, I fell into an even greater depression. So many people in utterly desperate situations, so much suffering and hopelessness. It's like a post-war movie. Even though I have young children at home, I am just one of many. The chances of my early return are slim. I've found it hard to explain all this to those around me. No one in the Czech Republic wanted to understand how it was possible that I, a citizen of Australia, a mother of young children, had no chance of getting home. What kind of psycho is this?
My agent was the only one who kept me updated daily on how things were going. He put me on the waiting list for all the other Qatar flights to Brisbane. He repeatedly urged them that after what they had done to me, they should put me on the next flight as a priority. The Australian government either ignored my pleas or gave me advice like if I was worried about my mental health, find someone to talk to me. Truly advice beyond gold.
I was slowly coming to terms with the fact that I really wouldn't get back until the end of October and I would be happy if I could at least make it then. It was so hard to talk to my family and see my kids desperate and crying, asking over and over when I was finally going to come back.
Several weeks have passed. One evening, when I was again doing everything I could not to fall into complete despair, to which the sad situation with my mother contributed, I just opened my online reservation to at least make sure that the flight for the end of October was still confirmed. And then I saw it! The earlier flight for mid-September was suddenly confirmed! I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, so I went to show my dad if he was seeing what I was seeing too. I was afraid to believe it was true. Unfortunately, it was already nighttime in Australia, so I had to wait until morning to have my agent confirm it. I not only didn't sleep all night, I didn't even breathe, I wanted so much for it to be true. Finally a message from my agent that it was indeed true and that I was incredibly lucky. The next three days leading up to my departure were just as stressful as the days before, I worried about what else was going to happen, filled out stacks of documents and questionnaires for the Australian government about my return, made an appointment for a PCR test, which thankfully was much easier than in Australia, plus I had a result within 6 hours of the test. It wasn't until I was strapped into my seat on board an almost completely empty plane bound from Qatar to Brisbane that I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I'm going home!!! Everything will be okay now. How wrong I was! Another nightmare awaited me in the form of forced quarantine.
As I have already hinted, all people, without exception, have to undergo 14 days in forced quarantine upon arrival in Australia. Even if they're flying from a country with almost zero incidence of covid.
At Brisbane airport, after passport and customs control and baggage collection, all 15 or so of us lucky people were herded into an area behind bars, where we then walked en masse to the arrivals hall, where one by one we walked to a window behind which the police sat, and there we learned where we would be quarantined. I was so happy when they told me that I would be in a hotel on the [Metallic] Coast, where I was staying. Then they put us on a bus and off we went. It's about an hour from Brisbane. All the way there I was excitedly phoning everyone and sending messages that I had really conquered that Australian fortress and that I was even going straight to the [Metallic] Coast. I originally thought I was gonna stay in Brisbane.
The smile disappeared from my face when the bus stopped. Once again we were greeted by the police and they started threatening us with all the things that would happen if we so much as stuck our noses out of our designated room - the amount of fines for non-compliance, even threatening us with jail for endangering public health. They all acted as if we were some prisoners with leprosy, not decent citizens returning home. I took one last breath of fresh air and then took the elevator up to my room. Outside the door I found a package of food and water. The room was a typical hotel room with a bed, a small table and chair, and a bathroom. I was tired after the long trip and generally mentally exhausted, so I ate, showered and went to bed. I woke up a few hours later, classic time zone change sickness, we're eight hours ahead of [Czechia's] schedule here. And then somehow it all got to me. What am I going to do here for two weeks? In a small space where I can barely take a few steps, no fresh air, not even a window to open. There's no balcony either. I'm not allowed to leave the room at all, except to quickly open the door with a veil over my mouth and pick up a box of food and water on the floor behind the door, which is 3 times a day. How can this be legal? Even prisoners are entitled to at least one hour in the fresh air and can even leave their cell regularly. We don't even do that. It has a lot to do with prison. My family can send me a package that's been searched for alcohol or cigarettes, which is forbidden here. Cigarettes completely, alcohol has daily limits. Twice in the first week, they did a PCR test for covid. A health worker knocks on the door, I have to open it with a face mask on, stand with my back to the door and get a swab. I've had two negative results. But that's not nearly enough to convince the authorities here that I don't really have covid. My last test will be on the twelfth day of quarantine, and if it is also negative (as it would not be), I will be allowed to go home to home quarantine. This is brand new. I must continue to stay at home until day 16, then go for another PCR test and if that is also negative, only then will I be able to engage in "normal" life (there is almost nothing normal in Australia anymore), meaning I will be able to leave my home, take the kids out and finally go back to work as well. I will also have to pay for the quarantine, around 3000 Australian dollars, which is around 50 000 CZK.
I know of no other country that has such drastic measures as Australia has. It seems to me that the Australian government revels in the misery of its citizens. We had the temerity to leave the country, so now we are going to serve our time here in quarantine and wonder what crime we committed. Yet people don't travel here for a long time or for pleasure, it's mostly family tragedies. And instead of their family and friends supporting them mentally after their difficult return, the government locks them up in solitary confinement for 14 long days.
My kids just came to wave under my window. To see that their mom is really here, and to believe that we will soon be together again. Eight more days... I can do this! That's all I have left.
The Invisible Dog, September 18, 2021
[Metallic] Coast, [Female Kings]land, Australia
Translated with deepl.com, free version