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Scott Sunderland didn’t even have time to visit his family in Sydney before it became clear he needed to leave.
After flying up from Melbourne for business on Wednesday, he had planned to spend Christmas in Sydney with his family.
But after two days working and staying with friends in Coogee, news that the coronavirus outbreak in the city had spread from the northern beaches on Friday meant he had to make some quick decisions.
“It was just a really fluid situation,” he told Guardian Australia.
“I spoke to my brother and my sister-in-law about midday. They asked me what I was going to do and I said I didn’t really know. At first we agreed that I would wait a couple of days to see what the situation was. We maybe thought it could just be a small thing.
“But then over, seriously, the next 30 minutes to an hour I spoke to some friends who told me they had announced some venues in Cronulla where my family lives. I was watching the news and you could just tell it was kicking off.”
So Sunderland made the decision to book a flight back to Melbourne, paying about $400 for a one-way ticket. Not long after, the Victorian government announced it would introduce a permit system for travellers returning from Sydney.
“I was in New Zealand in March when it all kicked off and I learned from that. There was no way I was going to get stuck,” he said.
“I’m still holding out a tiny bit of hope that I might be able to get back before Christmas but to be honest that hope is fading pretty quickly. I had some presents for my family so I wrapped them up and left them at my friend’s place.”
The hastily announced border restrictions prompted chaotic scenes at Sydney airport on Friday as travellers sought to beat the closures by making a mad dash out of New South Wales.
Long queues of travellers racing to meet their Christmas commitments, or, like Sunderland, abandoning them, were matched by reports of heavy traffic on the M1 motorway heading north to Queensland.
Almost 100 flights between Melbourne and Sydney alone were scheduled on Friday, and with the availability of travel after the weekend uncertain, the remaining seats did not come cheaply. Tickets for direct flights to Adelaide and Hobart from Sydney sold for more than $800 on Friday.
Sunderland said Sydney airport was “organised chaos”. He was critical of the way crowds seemed to be funnelled into the same areas despite the risk of the outbreak spreading.
“It’s like every single time something like this happens you see this in the news, people stuffed in like sardines. It just seems like surely they can figure out a way to stagger out the crowds,” he said.
“I have to say it was pretty funny when I got off the plane literally 100% of people were wearing a mask. It’s so different to Sydney. Even Melbourne people when they’re in Sydney still wear masks. We’re just so much more comfortable with it.”
The border restrictions are continuing to evolve. A number of states made initial announcements immediately following an emergency meeting of state and federal chief health officers on Thursday night.
In Queensland, the government announced that anyone who had visited the northern beaches since 11 December would be required to get tested and quarantine in their homes for 14 days from the date they left the northern beaches. People arriving from Saturday onwards will be forced into hotel quarantine at their own expense.
That announcement means Chloe Green-Pickard will spend Christmas in isolation. The 23-year-old lives on the Sunshine Coast but grew up in Avalon at the heart of the new outbreak.
On Wednesday 9 December she made a “really spontaneous trip” to Sydney to see friends on the northern beaches before Christmas. While there, she found herself in two of the locations named by NSW Health as venues potentially linked to the cluster.
Now she has some mild symptoms – including a sore throat and cough – and is in isolation while she waits for the return of her Covid-19 test.
“I came back on Monday and everything was just normal and it wasn’t until Wednesday, so a full week after I’d first got there, that I saw there were cases,” she said from the Sunshine Coast.
“It was pretty scary. I had been getting a sore throat but because I drove back so late on Monday I put it down to that. But it has gotten worse. I woke up this morning with a sniffly nose and a bit of a cough. It’s a bit concerning but I’m also thinking my mind might be playing tricks on me.”
Even if her test does come back negative though, the isolation protocols mean Green-Pickard will be spending Christmas alone. Her brother, who lives in Dee Why, had booked a flight to Queensland on Christmas Day but will now spend the day in Sydney.
She will also no longer be able to see her partner who works in regional Queensland.
“He’ll be alone and I’ll be stuck in my room,” she said. “[But] I’m actually one of the lucky ones because I managed to get back early and I’ll get out of isolation just before new year’s [so] at least I will have that. I do really feel for people who have had to cancel plans or gotten stuck.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Christmas chaos: hasty border restrictions see travellers flee NSW | New South Wales