Tens of thousands of Australians still struggling to come home after months of displacement due to the corona virus. Their individual stories are a little different – many working or studying abroad, others visiting family abroad, some just on vacation – but every expat is having a hard time returning to Australia, due to the country’s uncompromising approach to travel during the pandemic .
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made travel resection an important part of his response to COVID-19, arguing that other countries that have not sufficiently restricted travel (such as the United States and Britain) have paid serious consequences. For half a year now, Australians have been barred from leaving the country, while the government has simultaneously imposed restrictions on those trying to return home. That number remained at 4,000 per week for most of the quarantine, until last week, in response to increasing public pressure, Morrison raised the limit to 6,000.
Australians trapped overseas are currently running out of money, struggling with expired work or study visas, and petitioning the government in hopes of being repatriated. Their best hope is to keep trying to reserve seats (or seats – in some cases, entire families stranded) home, but flights are often canceled without explanation, it’s easier to get more expensive seats in first or business class, and the latest information suggested there may not be any bookings available before Christmas.
In the spring, when the virus first began to emerge and countries closed borders, sympathy in Australia waned for those unable to return to the past. But now, Qantas “Eight weeks after going broke,” tennis player seems to be flown into the country for the Australian Open without problems, and certain airports prioritize arrival of international workers and students. Most importantly, both the travel stamp, and the detention centers that Australians must stay in on arrival, have been explicitly proven to stop the spread of the virus.
Some Australians call the use of action sustainable “Cruel and unnecessary”, especially when so many women and girls are suffering abroad and haven’t seen their families since the start of the pandemic. And some even talk on the opposite side of the matter – no trip outside – arguing that the continent’s “tyranny of distance” is inherently isolating, and that breaking Australia’s bubble year-round is necessary for mental health.
For now, the best way forward for Australians is to reverse the views of the prime minister. That doesn’t mean free flow travel from around the world – much of Europe is still closed to Americans, for example – or traveling to other countries (although national complaints of claustrophobia do make sense). The reality is that the second wave is coming. It has arrived in several parts of Europe. And ideally, stranded Australians could return home this time before it’s too late. If Morrison raises the bar again and allows Australians to self-isolate instead of keeping them living in overcrowded detention centers, they may actually be able to spend a holiday in Australia this year.
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