Stranded Aussies: My Story
A few days ago, I spoke to someone who asked me why I wasn't home yet, despite voicing my want to come home a couple of weeks ago.
A simple answer: I can't.
We're almost one year into COVID hitting this fragile world of ours, and I've sat and watched the situation get worse and worse. The feeling of entrapment hit me hard last year, but has since been replaced by an anger, a frustration and an overwhelming sadness.
In March 2020, Miss Rona was really stretching her legs. Despite general public denial it wouldn't reach our UK shores in November, by March, the threat of this virus was real. It was almost overnight, everywhere shut down. BoJo stumbled through his daily news updates 'Two weeks. That's all we need to do to flatten the curve'. Haha. Remember when we were told that?
Now myself and other expats were faced with different problems than our UK friends. We don't live here permanently. Are we protected? Should we go home?
Posts in Facebook groups increased daily, and the Australian government finally stated to us, more or less: `If you're set up, stay'. It was an easy decision. The AusGov even encouraged it. I had one year left on my visa, I was working, I had a room in a great house share. It was summer. It'll be over soon.
Little did I know by making that decision, I would be abandoned by my government I'd chosen to call mine since 11 years old.
In March, flight prices had begun to rise. Terrified Australians flocked home, to their families and loved ones. Many gave up the remainder of their visa, quit jobs & left partners behind. It was sad to see so many of my friends pack up and go, but I couldn't understand it. The Australian government at this stage offered no COVID financial support. A whole new life would have to begin at home, in the middle of a pandemic. In my case, I had maybe one or two couches I could crash on for a week or so. After this, I would be stuck. Back at home, square one, no government financial support, no place to call home, no work. It was a bleak future for a 29 year old.
The introduction of flight caps begun, and the situation to get home got worse. At this stage, my job as a BDM for a great bar was useless. We were closed, and through sheer luck, I was eligible for 80% of my salary paid by the UK Gov. On top of this, I took a job at a supermarket. I didn't know the future for me financially, and I wanted to ensure I had some savings in case it got worse.
And of course, it did.
With the introduction of the flight caps, airlines were only able to take a maximum of 30 people per plane. Ticket prices skyrocketed. To get home, you'd need to get a business or first class ticket. However, despite this, airlines continued to oversell their flights. Australians were bumped off flights left, right and centre. Horror stories flooded the Facebook groups, with some people having up to 9 flights cancelled on them. These people were packed and ready, some finding out the morning of that their chance to get home was cancelled. I still remember reading about the family of five, living at Heathrow airport, since they no longer had a lease on their London townhouse. They had no money left, all of it tied up in the flight tickets.
We banded together. 'HELP US' we wrote to the government, the news stations, to anyone that would listen. If you can't get us home, can you provide any assistance?!
The responses were laughable.
'Ask your family for a loan'
'Crowdfund your flight ticket'
Their only solution? An opportunity for us to dig into our retirement fund. My personal fund I've been contributing to since I was 14. It was supposed to be for a stress-free future, not as a financial last effort due to Governments unwillingness to help. I took out the smallest amount I could, $10k. This would probably cover my flight home, my quarantine, and maybe a few weeks whilst I get set up again.
Quarantine? I hear you think. Isn't this free? Unfortunately, no. Part of the Australian's government COVID prevention methods involve two weeks in hotel quarantine. You are locked up in a hotel room, no windows, fed three meals a day, at your own expense. The entire two weeks costs an individual around $2000. It includes $60 worth of food a day, of varying quality, and no alcohol. It's more expensive than an all-inclusive in Spain, and at least there, you can go outside.
The last ditch effort provided by the government has been reparation flights, priced at $2000. Spaces on these flights are limited, and are given to the vulnerable Australians. The flights are 'sold out' almost 3 months in advance, and along the flight, there's no food or entertainment given to its passengers. Some of these flights are over 18 hours.
Now, I'm impressed by the governments willingness to prevent COVID entering Australian shores. The virus is deadly, mutating strains and affecting most corners of the globe. However, despite these draconian methods from the government, both the existing strains and the new UK strains have entered the population. A hotel security guard in Melbourne was caught having sex with the guests. Flight attendants in Sydney weren't quarantined, and released a new strain in NSW. It's insane to think these are news headlines.
On our side of things, the new UK strain was getting worse. Countries closed themselves off from the UK one by one, including transit flights. The caps, despite being increased momentarily, have gone back to the original levels. More flights have been cancelled.
I looked online today, and the cheapest month to fly home in 2021 is November. If I want to fly next month, I'm looking at one-way tickets priced at over £10,000.
I could write another few chapters here about international students, the media backlash, celebrities avoiding quarantine... but if you're wanting to know more, there's new articles daily. If you want to read some similar stories to mine, check out this piece from CNN: https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/australians-stranded-abroad-christmas/index.html
I'm still abroad, waiting for a glimmer of hope to appear at any one point. I want to travel home with a support system behind me. I want to fly home without bankrupting myself or my parents. I want to fly home when I know I'll be able to leave again, even for a small trip to my home country of New Zealand to see my family.
For now, I'll keep writing somewhere in the world.
And if anyone wants to donate something, my bank is always open 😅