In early March last year, I was self-isolating in my flat in London. Even though there were only a few hundred confirmed cases of Covid a day, I had met someone the week before who had tested positive.
This was before anyone knew much about the virus, but people were worried by the news coming out of China and northern Italy. I made frantic calls to 111 to try to get a test. No luck.
‘Why don’t you just come home?’ my mum in Sydney asked.
‘I can’t,’ I replied. ‘I work here as a journalist, I have a flat, I have shelves full of books too heavy to ship back. I have a life. If it gets really bad, I’ll be on the first flight home — I promise.’
When I made the decision to stay, it never occurred to me that more than a year later I would be wondering if I would be able to get home by Christmas 2022.
There are thousands of Australian expats around the world in my position. The border rules make it impossible for us to see loved ones unless we are willing to give up our lives abroad completely. A lottery-style system can secure a flight to Australia, but these are often cancelled at the last minute. Two weeks in hotel quarantine follow. Anyone unlucky enough to fly into an Australian city that’s far from home risks running up against further domestic border closures between states.
Take James Turbitt, an Australian living in Antwerp, who rushed home to see his mother in a Perth hospital. His flight landed in Melbourne and from hotel quarantine he applied for an exemption to travel across the country to see her before she died.