Paramedic pair’s desperate fight to get home
A PAIR of Tasmanian frontline paramedics at the centre of London's COVID fight have found themselves with their own battle on their hands as they desperately seek a way home.
Nikila King and her fiance Luke Ross moved from Hobart to the UK in 2017 after being granted working visas to further their medical careers.
When the pandemic struck the English capital earlier this year the couple was plunged onto the frontline of the country's COVID battle - a fight they felt compelled to stay and serve.
They are among a number of stranded Australians seeking a return home amid a dramatic drop in available international flights.
Ms King, 27, said government advice to them, at the pandemic's outbreak in January, was to remain in London and not return home given their employment status, income and access to health care.
She said that advice had since changed and the pair was told to return home.
On 17 March the Federal Government advised Australians overseas who wanted to return home to do so as soon as possible by commercial means.
Since then, more than 371,000 Australians and permanent residents have been able find a way home from overseas.
But for Nikila and Luke, a path home has been a far cry.
In August they broke their rental lease agreement and work contracts after acquiring flights home that month, but were later told by their airline that their seats had been cancelled.
Their next available flight home has been scheduled for October 25, and with only business class seats available on that flight, the pair was forced to pay $16,000 in upgrade fees.
They are surviving through the support of their parents who are funding hotel stays while they await their flights.
Ms King's mother Mandy said the situation had caused extreme amounts of stress for the family.
"It's taken an emotional toll on them. They don't want handouts, they're not asking for donations, they just want to come home," she said.
"It's not like they were over there holidaying. They had contracts to honour and Nikila felt like she couldn't just up and leave when London had that fight on its hands.
"If they had friends and family over there to lean on it wouldn't be as stressful but there is no one for them. They are homeless and just going from hotel to hotel."
Tasmanian independent MP Madeleine Ogilvie said the government couldn't shirk its responsibility to act.
"The cap on numbers allowed to return is causing a great deal of grief for Tasmanians stranded overseas. Airline ticket pricing is stratospheric - people who can afford business class fares can return but everyday people are trapped," she said.
Ms Ogilvie said normalising travel and the free movement of people within Australia is a huge challenge but we must do it.
"We need a more sophisticated approach to quarantine management, to enable travel to resume in the medium term."
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said while "unable to comment on individual cases, Australian consular officials around the world are doing all they can to assist Australians overseas impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic".
"The Australian Government continues to explore options to support Australians overseas to access flights on a commercial basis," the spokesman said.
"We encourage Australians seeking to return to remain in regular contact with their airlines or travel agents to confirm their arrangements and to subscribe to our travel advice at Smartraveller.gov.au."
Originally published as Paramedic pair's desperate fight to get home