While the Australian government says they will review the current arrival caps of just 30 seats per flight into Australia on October 24, Karryon founder Matt Leedham argues this is not good enough for the 25,000 plus citizens who are currently stranded and trying to get home.
Last week, I lost a dear old school friend to cancer. Martin was fifty years old, and despite bravely battling a rapid and aggressive condition for six months, he sadly passed away on Tuesday in a hospice in England, leaving behind his wife and 13-year old son.
Living on the other side of the world as I have done for the last twenty-plus years, the news shocked and saddened me and immediately made me want to get back to York in Northern England as soon as possible to grieve with loved ones.
I wanted to travel home simply to be there, to show up, support family and friends and send him off in the way he deserved, by sharing in a celebration of his life at the funeral – even if it would be a socially distanced one.
Except that right now, I can’t as it’s a near-impossible journey to get there and back due to the well-publicised government COVID-19 travel restrictions and airline arrival caps.
After doing some initial calculations of what my options might be, I quickly faced the stark realisation that there was no feasible way I could get there and back home to my own family in Australia before Christmas this year.
What would the journey look like if I could travel?
For starters, I’d have to apply online to the government to get an exemption to leave Australia on compassionate grounds.
While DFAT says they are now averaging around 48 hours for responses, there is no guarantee I would be granted an exemption anyway to leave given my friend was not part of my immediate family.
If I was lucky enough to get approved, I’d then be tasked with finding a last-minute flight back to England out of Sydney that didn’t cost a fortune.
I live in Byron Bay and due to the Queensland border being closed, this would mean also booking a costly return domestic flight out of Ballina where there are only minimal flights a day.
To make my flight out of Australia, I’d likely also need to stay overnight in Sydney which would add on more time and cost.
Already, the clock is working against me and it’s getting expensive.
All this before I’ve even stepped foot on my international flight and followed the health and safety protocols through to England, including transiting somewhere along the way.
A journey that could take anywhere between 24 to 48 hours or longer. Who knows.
Maybe around ten to fourteen days from now, and after missing the funeral, I’d finally arrive in England to grieve with those who knew Martin, pay my respects, and spend some time with my friends and family.
It’d likely be October by now. Time to come home. But now what?
In light of the current restrictions on flights, limited to only 30 passengers per flight (4,000 per week total) and a backlog of Australians estimated to be anywhere between 25,000 – 100,000 wanting to get home, it’s highly likely that I wouldn’t be able to get back until Christmas.
With stories of seat bumping and families having to sleep for days at airports waiting for a flight, while politicians, celebrities and prominent business people jump the queue to get on planes, estimating just when I might be able to get home would be futile and mentally exhausting.
What would I do for a couple of months until I did finally get on a flight out of England? This would just mean more expense and uncertainty.
And of course, once I did finally manage to get back to Australia, I would then have to enter into forced 14-day quarantine at my own expense of $3000 in Sydney. Before finally, boarding my (re-booked at more cost) flight back up to Ballina and then home to Byron Bay.
Total time spent: Three months? Maybe.
Total money spent: Anywhere between $15,000 – $25,000
This tale isn’t intended to be a sob story about my own situation but rather a real example of what thousands of Australians are experiencing while having to travel for all manner of humanitarian and health reasons.
So many are simply just trying to get home to loved ones. And it’s not acceptable.
The government have said they will review the situation on October 24. That’s almost six weeks away.
While they absolutely must lift the arrival caps and restrictions, already, this review date is too long a realistic time frame to be working towards, let alone to factor in the practicalities of what happens after that.
Action needs to happen now for the sake of Australians everywhere – not just for those who are stranded overseas, but for people here in Australia who are desperately waiting for news of when their loved ones can return home.
Yes, it’s complicated, and there are health and quarantine logistics to work through. We get it. But how about accelerating the process to meet what is rapidly turning into a humanitarian crisis?
The airlines are ready. We’re all ready.
The primary purpose of any government is to ‘take care of all of its people’. My heart goes out to the thousands of stranded Australians overseas who are being failed by our leaders.
Rest in peace Martin.
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