Last year, we’d planned to spend the UK summer holidays there, a plan that quickly began to unravel as more about the virus became known. I was also due to go back, for a shorter, solo, visit, in October, to attend a wedding – a trip that was also scuppered.
As disappointing as all of this was, it wasn’t the end of the world. My parents, fortunately, have remained well throughout the pandemic, and the situation in Australia is nowhere near as extreme as it is here. I worry about them, of course, as they do about me, but we make the most of the technology – Zoom, FaceTime, email – that we’re so lucky to have (honestly, can you imagine these past 12 months without them?).
Even so, we’d optimistically spoken about seeing each other this year, pinning our hopes on this August or, failing that, Christmas. This latest news makes these plans look increasingly unlikely.
Granted, as citizens, it’s not that we are barred from the country; indeed, around 398,000 Australians returned home between March and October last year. It is, however, not the simplest of undertakings. Strict arrival caps have sent ticket prices soaring; furthermore there have been allegations that airlines, fighting for survival, are favouring first and business class bookings over economy ones.
And then there is the question of hotel quarantine. In Australia, the requirement to quarantine is not a matter of trust, as it is, for the time being, here: it is a matter of being met by officials and taken to a hotel room, where you must hole up for 14 days. Meals are dropped off three times daily, towels are refreshed once a week and there is, of course, no housekeeping. As an individual, you’ll need to stump up $3,000 for this experience; the tab for a family of four will be $5,000.
I know many people have opinions about whether the government, rather than the individuals, should be footing the bill for this, but I also know that few would deny the validity of the practice, given that Australia’s death toll currently stands at fewer than 1,000. The point, for me, and for many others like me, is simply that it would be a nigh-on-impossible ask.
To pay for the entire family to quarantine, in addition to whatever our flights would cost – not a chance. To travel alone would be more feasible, financially, but, given the ages of my children, two weeks – the length of the quarantine – is about as long as I could be away for.