Last year, at the height of the pandemic, I remember being glued to my phone, refreshing the news. With every day, came more COVID cases and deaths and more restrictions.
While I myself had been travelling in the US in March and had to fly back early as the situation there worsened, I always wondered what it was like for Aussies who couldn’t just fly back home before the mandatory $3,000 hotel quarantine was imposed. Those who hadn’t been on holiday and were actually living abroad.
Then, as the restrictions here in Australia lifted, I hate to say it, but I no longer thought about it. I stopped checking the overseas COVID stats and focused only on what was happening here. Which, apart from the situation in Victoria and the recent outbreaks in Sydney, wasn’t a whole lot.
And the same is likely the case for other Australians too. For many of us, unless we have friends or family living overseas, there’s a good chance we haven’t thought about what it’s like for those who can’t come home unless they have a spare $3,000 to fork out. Not to mention having to live with continuous lockdowns.
Here, I share the stories of two of them – both living in London with their families here in Australia. And while, of course, their situations are similar to those Australians wanting to visit friends and families overseas – they too would have to pay $3,000 on their return – I think they’re still worthwhile sharing as they offer different viewpoints, as they’ve experienced an entirely different government handling of the pandemic.
Annabel has lived in London for the past two years. After losing her job as a designer at the start of the pandemic and being unemployed for nine months, she finally landed a new gig last month, which she says has helped her feel generally more at ease. “I’ve got a routine and finally have an income again,” she says.
“But there were definitely dark times when I struggled, and I was beyond anxious – if that’s a thing,” she continued. “Accepting being stripped of options and the freedom we were so accustomed to was stomach-clenching. There were times I would wake up in the middle of the night with a racing heart completely unable to calm myself. I was suddenly unable to change my situation and my location, and that was incredibly overwhelming.”
As for Annabel’s take on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic, she describes the restrictions there as “endless and exhausting.”
“We’ve been pummelled with bumbling, confusing and conflicting advice from the PM – different tiers, different rules for politicians and the public,” she says.
Matt has also lived in London for the past two years, working as a video producer. He says almost all of their Australian friends in the UK returned home after Australia’s mandatory hotel quarantine in was introduced last year, some just months into their expensive two-year youth mobility VISAs.
“My partner and I had stable jobs in an unstable economy so we decided to stay put,” he says.
“We knew returning home we’d be jobless and would need to immediately apply for JobSeeker. What was disappointing was reading the opinions of fellow Australians saying we were flouting the travel advice of the government by staying, and that it was our responsibility to pay for hotel quarantine. ‘You had your chance to leave and you ignored that.’ We’re living and working in the UK, we weren’t backpacking and couldn’t just leave at the drop of a hat.”
Matt says that when the quarantine was first introduced, he and his girlfriend had made peace with knowing they’d only be back home with family after about 24 hours of transit and the two-week quarantine period.
But, when the new strain of the virus cropped up in the UK and their flights home to Australia for a visit last month were cancelled, they realised that, should anything happen to family and they needed to get back home urgently, the wait could be even longer. “Therefore, we have now decided to make preparations to return home for good in March 2021,” Matt says.
As for his take on the pandemic in the UK? “Well, it’s bad,” he says.
“Pubs and shops are boarded up, and walking down the High Street yesterday, I saw multiple forfeiture notices on shop fronts. So, things are pretty grim.”