Cruise couple reveal quarantine hell
COVID-19 has taught Ulmarra couple John and Di Leask plenty about their country and their sleepy little village on the Clarence River.
Eleven weeks ago the couple set out on their dream holiday of luxury cruising on the high seas, culminating with the Highland Games in Scotland in August.
Instead they returned to their home yesterday, tired but grateful and with a portfolio of adventure stories very different to the ones they anticipated sharing on their return.
The Leasks were cruising aboard the Cruise & Maritime Voyages ship Vasco da Gama when the Australian Government said it was about to close Australia's borders to help fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus and all Australian citizens should return home.
From the time the Vasco da Gama berthed at Fremantle, the couple's lives went from luxury to chaos.
Initially the passengers were assured they would all be able to fly home without delays.
"Booking flights was nearly impossible, but we got a flight at 3am in the morning," Mr Leask said.
"By the next day the WA Premier (Mark McGowan) had changed all the rules and we had to stay on the ship."
"The premier said there would be no repeat of the Ruby Princess in WA," Mr Leask said.
The couple stayed on board the ship for 18 days, virus free, but found that was not enough to satisfy Australia's new quarantine laws.
With good grace they undertook another 14 days of quarantine, off the ship in the five-star luxury of Perth's Crown Metropole.
The accommodation might have been five-star, but the meals and service left a lot to be desired.
"For the first six or seven days the meals were about three quarters rice, with some green matter that might have been overcooked beans and gravy," Mr Leask said.
"There was no meat protein in them at all."
Fortunately the tech-savvy couple realised delivery services like Uber Eats were available and they were able to order in quality meals to their hotel room.
Mr Leask suspected the WA Government made decisions biased toward WA citizens.
He said all WA citizens were taken off the ship and put on Rottnest Island, after completing health and dietary survey to assess their needs.
"The remaining 600 non-WA residents' medical and dietary needs were completely ignored," he said.
Instead they were transferred to Perth motel rooms to wait out their 14 days' quarantine.
Mr Leask said there were some terrible outcomes.
"There was one man in our hotel who went through some really bad consequences," he said.
"He had PTSD and claustrophobia from a work accident years ago.
"He thought if he could get a little fresh air and a walk outside each day he would be right.
"But they wouldn't even allow him that."
Mr Leask said the consequences for that denial were dire.
"He's in a mental health ward now," he said. "It was terrible, but he just couldn't take it."
He said there were many stories that would come out from the experiences of the passengers in those hotels.
Mr Leask said the eventual return to Sydney was extremely stressful.
"When we boarded the flight to Sydney, they checked every passenger arriving in WA, which cost us an hour," he said.
"The plane was due in Sydney at 7.30pm, and we had booked a hire car.
"But the hire car pick-up closed at 8pm. If there any delays like the one in Perth, we would miss our car."
To the couple's surprise the arrival at Sydney went smoothly.
"There was no checks at all," he said. "We just walked off the plane and collected our luggage, just like normal."
After the flight and the drive from Sydney, the couple arrived in Ulmarra in the early afternoon yesterday.
"After all that you realise how special Australia is," he said. "And especially our part of it here in Ulmarra."