Our experience travelling all the way from Europe to Australia during Covid-19.

Every European summer we fly to Australia during the holidays. Normally our tickets are booked in advance so our travel dates are planned ahead of time.

However with the Covid pandemic July 2020, it was poised to be a rather difficult task to get back to Australia.

We were very anxious as Australia closed its borders to international non-Australian passengers. With all the strict regulations in place our chances of getting back home seemed rather slim.

My husband was convinced we were not going to Australia to visit our family and friends this summer.

However I was determined and had to find a way.

As with months of strict lockdown from March in Luxembourg and not knowing what was coming, it was rather worrying.

With very limited flights out from Frankfurt to Australia, we miraculously managed to get seats on Qatar Airways. Our daughters couldn't believe that we were actually going!

11 July 2020 was a day not to be forgotten. We drove from Luxembourg to Frankfurt.

Then with much anxiety, we were still not convinced that we were flying to Australia. The media had constant news of so many flights being cancelled into Australia. Then our Prime Minister announced limited flights and only limited passengers per flight allowed to arrive into Australia.

When we arrived Frankfurt airport we quickly checked the big screens and could still see the flight status as open.

With much excitement but still not convinced we checked in and boarded. Upon boarding constant announcements were made about the flights.

I called my parents to say we were at the airport waiting to board. They said only once you are seated on the plane and have taken off then you can be excited!

Hearts were beating faster when we were called to the Qatar Airways desk.

We were asked to wear our blue face masks and a clear protective face mask as well. They said we would have to wear this for the entire flight, even in transit, except when eating during the flight.

This was something we had never experienced before, but at this stage we were happy to take any conditions to just get on that flight to Australia!

Finally we boarded and were given a very warm welcome aboard the plane.

The flight crew were all dressed in a full deck of cover for protection against Covid. This was also a rare sight.

Now seated, we were still not convinced that we would be taking off, as anything could happen at the last minute.

With much excitement the pilot welcomed us on board and announced our take-off to Doha!

I screamed and had so many butterflies. When we finally had taken off, I called my parents in Australia to say we were on our way! We were fortunate to get so many empty seats meaning we could just lay down and sleep. It felt like we were flying on a private jet as we had so much space & comfort!

The flight was super empty on this huge aircraft. It was amazing as this was also quite rare. But as passengers it was a great benefit, as all 4 members of our family could have one row each to ourselves!

However deep down inside I was still feeling very anxious as once we landed in Doha I thought about the possibility of being stuck there.

The transit at Doha airport was also a scene we had not witnessed before. On our previous transfers this airport was always buzzing with people and shops open.

However on 11 July Hamad International Airport in Doha was so quiet and a rather subdued feeling.

It was like a ghost town, so empty.

Then the time arrived for that 'magical call' when it was announced that the flight to Perth was ready for boarding!

By now the excitement level had accelerated to maximum level.

As one can imagine that this was almost impossible but somehow it was actually happening. Rather surreal.

We finally boarded flight from Doha to Perth. Again, the same feelings of anxiousness arose as plane hadn't taken off just yet.

Then - hooray! We were boarded, seated and now the Captain announced our flight to Perth!

I called my parents again to say we were certainly on our way to Australia!!

They also screamed with much joy!

© Zelah Dutta-Nielsen

LANDING in Perth, Australia!

Touchdown finally!

From a sunset departure from our backyard in Luxembourg to a spectacular welcome sunset in Perth - Australia!

Tears of joy fell when the plane landed onto the tarmac.

From the Australian border control to the police force to airport ground staff to customs control to the hoteliers, medical staff & many others working effortlessly, all deserve a big medal for their outstanding service.

We are so thankful to them all during this whole experience.

Their hard work to make the Covid-19 operation for international arrivals run efficiently was impressive. The sound of ‘welcome home’ with an Aussie accent & smile upon entrance was just a heart warming feeling. Thank you Australia!

Upon arrival at Perth airport we had many forms to be filled. Mostly, there were only Australians returning home. The airport looked empty and strict measures were in place. Duty-free shops were all closed.

It was yet another sombre atmosphere that we had not experienced before.

But the Australian ground staff were so welcoming and showed empathy to the incoming passengers. They were so good with our girls as well and creating good Aussie humour to break the anxiety.

Our temperatures were checked. Those over 37 degrees had to sit aside and be attended to by a nurse.

Once we cleared the Covid security area, we had to go through with more forms to the Australian Border Control. Here our passports were checked and we were given clearance to go through and collect our luggage.

Then we were asked to sit down with the Australian Federal Police as they asked specific questions, but all along they were so friendly and supportive.

When we cleared from this area we were kindly asked to wait in another designated area Here we saw a few other families with children who were also waiting.

This was the waiting area where the police would then escort us to 3 buses that were taking the incoming international passengers to our designated hotels for quarantine. It was late, it was dark and all we saw were flashing police lights.

We had no idea where we were going and we had police cars and bikes in front of our bus while being escorted to our hotel.

The Australian Forces had already decided as to which hotels we were going to stay in. We still had no idea until we arrived. Then we had to wait on the bus for over an hour until it was our turn to hop off.

Check in at the hotel was through a back exit which was all covered so we couldn't see much. However, the hotel staff were so welcoming and gave us our key. Where we were then taken to our designated rooms.

HOTEL QUARANTINE in PERTH

Once we arrived into our room our girls were so excited! They couldn't believe that they gave us two huge adjoining rooms. We were ever so thankful and feeling so blessed.

We were advised that we were not to leave our room for the next 14 days of quarantine. All our meals would be delivered and collected at our front door.

We had no balcony and could not open our windows.

However our room was amazing with spectacular view of the Swan River in Perth. It was quite serene to wake up to this which provided a sense of calmness amidst the Corona storm!

On our 2nd and 12th days of quarantine in the hotel, we had our Covid tests.

The nurses came to our door in fully protective gear and it was rather daunting to have the test for the girls. But the nurses made it such a pleasant experience for them as they were so gentle.

Again the anxiousness grew as we awaited the phone call from the nurse for our results. Fortunately it was negative and what a relief that was!

Had it been positive, we would have been staying in the hotel for much longer than 14 days.

People kept asking us how our girls were doing with all the restricted quarantine in a hotel room. But rest assured they actually enjoyed relaxing, reading books, watching TV with English channels again and catching up with their friends online in Luxembourg.

The food we were given was incredible and again we were truly thankful to the all the amazing hotel staff for their care.

We were also very thankful to a wonderful friend of our parents, who we had never met, but still dropped us a gift bag. It was left at the hotel reception as she wasn't allowed to visit us. She had me in tears as this gift bag arrived at our door with all sorts of treats to brighten our time in quarantine. She had surprised us with bath treats, chocolates, fresh lemons from her tree and a game of Monopoly for the girls to keep occupied in the room. This was so thoughtful and brightened our stay during quarantine.

© Zelah Dutta-Nielsen

RELEASE DAY from Hotel Quarantine

It was just too exciting for words to express!

I had told our daughters that if we made it to Australia we would need to quarantine. But it would only be for 14 days and they should remember that many others around the world live in worse conditions with no roof over their heads, no food on their table and no family around.

Refugees and asylum-seekers experience much worse than we ever will in our 14 days of quarantine. This provided a sense of positive mindset and being grateful for our blessings.

So with that perspective our girls understood that it was a short term sacrifice for a long term gain to see our family again.

Finally the day had arrived to be released! Ah, that feeling of joy & freedom felt bitter sweet.

Protocols & procedures were followed and more forms had to be signed for our release back into the community in Western Australia.

We got a phone call in the evening of our last day that it was time.

The girls said: "Oh, now we have to put our shoes on after 2 weeks!"

Delighted with all smiles, the door bell rang and there awaited a security guard to escort us out to the front entrance of the hotel for check out.

Walking out through the hotel doors we felt such a sense of freedom and great relief.

But we were being conscious of our every step as we weren't sure what to do now being out in the open again! Also, we were advised that we didn't have to wear masks in Western Australia. So that felt so free on our faces.

Our girls first noticed all the little sounds as we had had no contact with anyone except the nurses for the last 14 days. It was rather quiet inside but now we were able to breathe fresh air and see the trees and hear the birds sing and the engines of the cars and everything else around us.

We found an Indian restaurant close by where we celebrated our freedom from quarantine dinner.

REUNITING with our FAMILY

This was beyond surreal as there were so many obstacles and against all odds we travelled from the other side of the world during this Covid pandemic to re-unite with our family.

Australian border rules within each state and territory in Australia were also changing fast due to the sudden rise of Covid in Melbourne and Sydney.

After our release in Perth we were fortunate to meet up with my cousin and his family in Western Australia.

However to meet with my parents was still a challenge, as they live in the south of Australia and we were on the west coast!

They were meant to open on 24 July but that changed, leading to worrying thoughts again and thinking that we had flown all this way and quarantined for 14 days, but now wouldn't be able to see them!

We were constantly following the latest updates from the Australian Government whilst in Australia as we had to now stay longer in Western Australia. So we travelled around and saw some amazing places. What a beautiful state it is.

Now it was the middle of August and we still were not sure if we could meet with my parents. So it was getting more anxious to await for any changes.

To our luck, the state of Queensland opened their borders so we were able to fly there upon signing a Declaration Form that we were Covid free. Also we were flying from WA which had a very low rate of Covid cases.

Once we arrived in Queensland, we had to wait and see if my parents would be allowed to travel and meet us here as well.

Whilst waiting for that news we travelled to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns and Port Douglas which was absolutely spectacular. Travelling on the Tropical North Queensland during Covid, we had other worries. We were surrounded by crocodile areas, especially in places like Cape Tribulation and Daintree Forest.

Finally the news was released that my parents were able to fly up to Queensland as well.

So they flew up and this is where we finally reunited.

After this long ordeal, challenges, obstacles and waiting, we finally embraced with long hugs and tears of joy at the Brisbane Airport.

We spent time much with my parents on the Gold Coast embracing every moment and creating special memories before departing back to Luxembourg on 1 September 2020.

Strict procedures were also in place when we left Australia with the Immigration Department. But all went well with our forms, so that was a relief.

It was a very sad departure as we said our farewells to my parents. Now that we're back in Luxembourg with a second wave of Covid in Europe, who knows when we shall see each other again.

It was certainly worth to take the risks and fly to Australia in July as the returns of seeing our family again were precious and priceless.

Zelah Dutta-Nielsen