When the simple act of returning home made me feel like a criminal

Enjoying some 'me' time in quarantine in Tasmania
Enjoying some 'me' time in quarantine in Tasmania

When Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein announced he was going to turn the state into a fortress, my heart sank.

Not because I felt it was unnecessary or that Tasmanians didn't deserve the protection, but because I was in regional NSW and knew that my journey home to the Apple Isle would be difficult, if not impossible.

It had already proved problematic with booked flights for a later return disappearing, but when the Premier announced on Saturday March 28 that anyone arriving in the state after midnight on March 29, resident or not, would be isolated in a government facility, it became outright panic.

What if they closed borders entirely for months? I needed to get home.

With airlines shutting down flights, there was no hope of getting home by the midnight deadline, so I had to try for the next flight, and hope there would be some sort of evaluation process, which would allow me to enter self-isolation at home as my partner and I had planned and prepared for almost since I had departed Tasmania.

I have spent the past two weeks in NSW, not travelling, not sightseeing but caring for my 82-year-old mother, who has been very unwell and also has respiratory issues. I have been obsessive about the stipulated precautions to avoid putting her in any danger.

Adding to the panic was the lack of information and the inability to get any. Announcing it on a weekend ensured no offices or departments would be open to take calls and provide details.

Where were we going? Was it some sort of detention facility? Would it be a hospital? Would family be allowed to bring us necessary items?

The stress was compounded by the fact very little Tasmanian news reaches the mainland and I didn't have access to reliable internet.

All of this swirled around in my head for almost two days before my partner managed to speak to someone from the premier's office who said guests would be placed in hotels.

But that wasn't necessary ... I had a home. I had hundreds of dollars of food in the fridge. I had the entertainment lined up ready to go. We were well-prepared and fully aware of the critical purpose the self-isolation process played in keeping everyone safe.

So after another cancelled flight and a tearful trip to a travel agent (where I stood outside the office and spoke to her) I was finally on my way home, each step filled with gut-wrenching anxiety.

I landed in Tasmania at 1.10pm Tuesday, March 31, completed an arrival card and the police came aboard to explain disembarkation.

But when we got to the terminal, my fears were confirmed ... any 'non-essential' travellers were shepherded into a room, complete with police and someone from Communities Tasmania, telling us we would be taken to a hotel for 14 days. There was to be no interview or discussion.

Me waving from my quarantine to my ACM colleague in the hotel car park

Me waving from my quarantine to my ACM colleague in the hotel car park

No 'have you been overseas?' 'Have you been contact with anyone from overseas?' 'Do you have any symptoms?'.

All of the questions asked of everyone else in the country, even those exhibiting potential symptoms turning up at COVID-19 clinics.

There was a very real sense of tension and immense agitation, and the police presence made me, at least, feel like a criminal.

One couple arriving from the far north of WA and dressed for it, were not allowed, even under police escort to go to their car at the airport and collect a coat.

There was an assumption that everyone in that room was going to do the wrong thing and needed to be confined and constrained because we were such a threat.

However, I had done all the right things, had been socially distant, even from my mum who I hadn't hugged the entire two weeks I was with her.

I was ready and more-than-willing to self-isolate.

But no, we were clearly a huge risk to the Tasmanian population, and as such were herded onto public transport (the cleanliness of which was questionable) and driven at high speed to a hotel where a bunch of confused people were offloaded and essentially left to their own devices. No government health officials in sight.

Now I am stuck in a hotel where I don't know who has touched the bedside light, the minibar or the fabric chairs.

Nor do I know how well the room has been sanitised prior to my arrival. I know the answer to these questions in my own home.

Some quick calculations tell me that to hold just my group of around 20 will cost upwards of $30,000 for the 14 days. This is guess work, but there are approximately 70 to 80 people in this hotel plus numerous other groups around the state. You do the sums.

I have absolutely no issue with the facilities or the food or the police or the hotel staff ... my problem is with the assumption that we are all irresponsible, selfish and oblivious to the crisis gripping the country and the tragedy already occurring.

So in a time when compassion and consideration are essential, what about a little for those who wanted nothing more than be safe and secure in their own homes?

Lyndell Whyte is a journalist for ACM.

This story When the simple act of returning home made me feel like a criminal first appeared on The Canberra Times.