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Testing chaos means I may not see my family

written by Maja Garaca Djurdjevic | December 24, 2021
Victor Pody shot this Qantas A330-303, VH-QPA.

Journalist Maja Garaca Djurdjevic is one of the thousands of Australians who face a nerve-wracking wait to see if they can board flights home, due to COVID test waiting times. Here she talks through her experiences.

It’s 36 hours until take-off and 60 hours until I finally see my parents face to face, after an agonising two-year separation caused by Australia’s totalitarian approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What should be a joyous time (to be honest, the pre-flight period rarely is due to my crippling fear of flying), is now riddled with anxiety. And not the “Oh my God, what if they slam the borders shut just hours before take-off” or the “Oh my God, what if my luggage, filled with everything from fruitcakes to koala-decorated socks gets misplaced in Doha?”

No, the sentence making my stomach churn is, “Oh my God, I could actually miss this flight because of a f***ing PCR test!!!”

It’s been a very long 24 months (thirty-six for my husband).

On the other side of the world, my parents have navigated this pandemic on their own. My first trip to see them was scheduled for July last year. That, you guessed it, was inevitably cancelled.

Fortress Australia locked up its gates and lost the keys.

So, imagine the joy when in November, NSW Dominic Perrottet announced his state had unearthed a key – the right key that would lift the iron curtain, letting us hop on a flight with the promise of embracing our families a “short” 24 hours later!

The first thing my husband and I did was purchase tickets. And let me tell you, they were not cheap, but dollars were not going to stall our reunion.

As Omicron emerged, the anxiety set in, and it pretty much hasn’t lifted since.

I am a journalist, so as much as I wanted to block out the news and the sensationalised headlines written for the sole purpose of making us sweat, I (simply put) couldn’t.

Every day for the past two months, I’ve been glued to a screen. I’ve followed every press conference, watched the case number tick up and cancelled my attendance at every event I was invited to (including my work Christmas party) in the lead up to the flight.

I even booked my international test with Histopath on 7 December, a good two and a half weeks before I was due to fly.

But here we are.

Now, 36 hours before that usually dreaded take-off, and I am popping lavender oil capsules on the hour (save your hard-earned cash, they don’t work).

Last night, my husband and I ventured to the airport to get tested. We thought we were being rational. We thought we were being considerate. If we gave the medical staff 48 hours to churn our results, we’d be safe, and they’d have time to process our tests.

Boy, were we wrong.

We were greeted by the police. We were sent home, test-less!

Instead, the friendly police officer advised us to return at 6am on the day of our flight, which mind you is at 9:45 pm, and wait in line with our luggage, hoping not to catch COVID or get trampled by hundreds of anxiety-filled passengers, who just like us now, faced the real prospect of missing their flight!

“The situation is completely f***ed”, the police officer said. “People are missing their flights,” he continued.

We turned around, sat in our car, and I cried.

So here we are, 36 hours to go. No test. And don’t get me wrong, I never imagined flying in a pandemic would be easy. Still, I never imagined that the situation could be quite this messed up.

Luckily, we’re young, relatively fit people. We can stand in a line for hours, in the heat, if forced to. But what about the older generations, what about people with children, people with disabilities? How did we get here?

Yes, I understand the medical staff are overworked, but people that are hours away from reuniting with their families after a long and painful 24 months are emotional ruins. The prospect of getting to the finish line and falling short over a PCR test is unbearable.

So as my agony continues, my wish for 2022 is that governments and PCR tests will never again stand in the way of family reunions. If the pandemic has taught us one thing, emotional pain is the worst kind of pain.

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic is editor, wealth, at Australian Aviation’s publisher, Momentum Media.

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