On home soil but still not home after COVID cruise nightmare
It's not often the Australian Ambassador to Italy dresses up in a special suit to meet holidaymakers.
But that was one of the weird events that happened to Joanne Martin-Blakey and her husband Iain when the coronavirus flipped the world upside down.
The couple had taken off on a Europe cruise which ended with them detained in their cabin for two weeks as a global lockdown to avoid COVID-19 unfolded.
Their plans for Mrs Martin-Blakey's 50th birthday were thrown into jeopardy as the cruise ship Costa Victoria was barred from docking in ports around Europe.
Their worst fears were realised when a passenger tested positive for the highly contagious virus and the whole ship was closed off to the outside world for 14 days.
To make matters worse, they were then told they would have to spend a further 14 days in quarantine in Italy, one of the hot spots for the virus.
But throughout the ordeal, the couple, who have a clean bill of health, kept their sanity with moments of humour while bunkered down in their tiny cabin docked off the Italian port of Salerno.
The trip chalked up a number of firsts for Mrs Martin-Blakey, the media manager at Logan's Kimberly College.
"So many firsts for us," she said. "First cruise, first holiday alone together, first pandemic, first time to Perth etc. LOL"
After a week of negotiations, following Australia and Queensland announcing the imminent closure of their borders, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne stepped in and was able to secure their passage from Italy back to Australia aboard a Qatar flight.
However, that was not before the passengers were led to believe they would be forced to be quarantined for two weeks outside Rome.
Good news came on Friday last week, when the 270 Aussies on board Costa Victoria were told they would be taken to Perth for quarantining.
The 30-hour trek back to the southern hemisphere started on Saturday when passengers were bundled off the cruise ship and into 10 buses heading to the Rome airport where they
were greeted by the Australian Ambassador to Italy Greg French, dressed in a full COVID jumpsuit.
The 279 Australians including 120 West Australians boarded a Qatar aircraft on Saturday night.
On arrival at Perth airport, they had a temperature check and half were sent into quarantine at the Crown Casino and the other half to Duxton Hotel.
"It's very nice accommodation," Mrs Martin-Blakey said.
"We get three meals a day delivered and can have other things delivered to us except alcohol.
"We are very, very happy to be here after a 30-hour day yesterday."
Although they have been provided "heaps" of COVID-19 information and have been told to phone a certain number if they show any symptoms, they have not been tested.
They also have no idea how they will get back across the Queensland border, which was locked down on March 25.
"We have no idea how we will get back as yet," Mrs Martin-Blakey said.
"We will contact a travel agent today to discuss as we purchased return flights to Brisbane and they confirmed they would get us home.
"So we are expecting them to come to the table to help us with this one."
Another fear was the threat of a further 14 days in quarantine, on top of the 21 days they have already served, once back in the Sunshine State.
But State MP Melissa McMahon said the couple, like all domestic and international travellers, would have to be quarantined for 14 days after crossing the border into Queensland but they could isolate themselves at home.
"Fourteen days of quarantine in Perth becomes null and void once you spend more than 15 minutes on a plane with other people," Ms McMahon said.
"But it is only international travellers who are being quarantined in the hotels.
"Domestic travellers merely have to indicate the address that they will be quarantined in when they arrive."
Originally published as On home soil but still not home after COVID cruise nightmare