As much as I feel my life is not worthy of its own blog I recognise that personal stories can give great insight into larger topics or debates. Personally at least I enjoy reading through the prism of a personal story so I will avail those who care to continue my personal experience through these utterly ridiculous times.
I will begin this story a few months ago when I began this blog. Catallaxy has always been an important part of my life, a collection of information, opinions and debates that are simply ignored by the mainstream media. I had no intention of taking on such a role and definitely no time for such an endeavour but my “motto” in life is take on a challenge and work out the details later.
At the same time 2 major life events were taking place. I was starting a new business in my hometown (not that big of a deal) but unexpected media attention meant that it grew faster and quicker than anticipated which left me extremely time poor. The store is a lolly shop, the idea was to bring a little bit of joy to my children, sharing with them one of my favourite childhood activities. The site is lolly-kingdom.com.au and it is now Australia’s largest pick and mix lolly store with over 300 varieties. you can see my wife and I in the half finished shop at this news article here. https://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/7389272/australias-largest-pick-and-mix-lolly-store-is-open/
As a result of the media attention I had to hire extra staff and put on a manager to assist. As anyone who owns a business putting on staff is no small matter, besides the cost and effort involved you have a new responsibility (and stress) to look after them.
The second life event was a decision for my wife and I and our 6 children to move to Brisbane. Our small hometown had become incredibly lacking in ambition and the sea change retiring crowd from Sydney had destroyed the housing market and the vitality of the town. I don’t blame them for the change but wanted more opportunity for the kids and ourselves. I should add the warmer climate was a significant factor as my wife is very ill. Neither of these events are overly complicated until you add in the Rona and the government incompetence and overreaction that follows.
Mentally the Covid debate was already taking its toll on me. The fact that so many people close to me just followed the advice like ducks waiting for bread or worse repeated the advice as if watching the 6pm news gave you anything more knowledge then a government press release. One discussion with a gym member was particularly memorable for the ability to shift goal post and then the nonchalant dismissive nature of the person when called out on it. (Proper debating needs to be taught in school but that is a side issue). After I politely pointed out that Israel has high vaccine rates and still have lockdowns I was asked what I would do. I suggested the Sweden model of doing nothing which had excellent results far better than many countries with severe limitations on freedom. They replied that you are happy with 60 thousand deaths in Australia, a number that would never apply to us for a host of reasons climate and location being the main two. I knew the number was wrong but being a typical conservative I said nothing as I was not sure of the correct figure which at the time was actually 15000 (and that is if deaths are being recorded correctly which I doubt). So they had pulled a number out of thin air to prove their point whilst I being unsure of the numbers was too polite to do the same, a microcosm of the larger debate I think. Anyway these conflicts were deflating as you Cats would know and had already diminished my appetite for news or political debates.
It was then I made a huge error of judgement. I decided to move the family at the beginning of term 4 so the kids could see out the term and finish their sporting commitments. We had a couple of titles to win after all. This would also give me more time in the lolly store to have it running smoothly before I left. I had assumed lockdowns would be restricted to Sydney as we had not had a single case of covid – Ever. But not having a single case of an infectious disease is not a good enough reason to keep a town open according to the NSW government and as a result our life got a whole lot more complicated and completely unnecessarily.
The lolly shop was now closed, I have 2 full time staff and can not open to the public. All the momentum and goodwill generated from the opening and the media attention had vanished overnight. Tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of kilos of food sitting there with little options and no warning as well as a significant portion of my savings invested sitting there. I wasn’t even eligible for the government grants due to it being a new business.
At the same time our move to Brisbane became far more difficult. We could no longer travel across the border to look at houses to move to, so we had to pick a location via video call which, although unspoken, put our applications at the bottom of the list for landlords. No chance we were to buy a house sight unseen so renting was the only option now. We decided to take the first house we were offered (many did not get to this stage) so our rental agreement began a few weeks before our desired move date. We then put our house up for rent as our local area has a severe housing shortage and this was to start at a similar time to our new house in Brisbane.
We also now had to require hotel quarantine to get into the state if we couldn’t get a medical exemption. So we immediately applied for a medical exemption on the grounds that 8 people in a hotel room is not mentally healthy for anyone, especially children. In addition my wife has trigeminal neuralgia also known as the suicide disease, severe facial and head pain caused by stress, noise and touch. Pretty sure stress and noise with 6 kids in a hotel room is a given. 2 of the kids have been formally diagnosed with ADHD not much of an issue normally but being imprisoned will be devastating and a third has Autism. Combined we think it would present a reasonable case for home quarantine, coming from an area with zero cases ever.
This begins our first direct interaction with government, a new department set up for medical exemptions into queensland. We were responded to in a few days asking for further proof of medical issues requiring a lot of work talking to paediatricians, psychiatrist, doctors and the like. After we submitted the new information and didn’t hear back we decided to contact the department. Not finding any details we contacted the Qld covid help line for more information. They tell us they have no idea on how the exemption department works, no idea what the chances are and that there is no way to contact them either by phone or email. The best option is to add to our case daily so that they see the notifications. This is something we did and we didn’t hear back for 4 weeks! Not being one to sit idly we began to plan for the inevitable hotel quarantine stay instead moving forward our dates so we wouldn’t be paying rent for a house we can’t get to. However hotel quarantine was also paused for an indefinite time. We were now homeless where we lived (staying anywhere as a family of 8 is nearly impossible) paying rent on a house we couldn’t get to and with a new business closed to the public, children no longer at school or childcare and no dates or information reliable to make any decisions on.
We then hired a holiday house locally (they were dormant because of the lockdown), opened the business to the public as it was food retail, told the kids not to worry about school until we had moved and tried to enjoy a mini holiday to assist our declining mental health. Unfortunately lockdown meant that we could no longer exercise at a gym (my single most important mental health exercise), we could not go out to dinner, we couldn’t go shopping together (actually got pulled up at bunnings for this one. I actually laughed at them first before realising they were being serious) and had to wear a mask out in public so not exactly a textbook edition of a holiday.
Staying at the house got many strange looks from the public (as it was clearly identified as a holiday house, culminating inevitably with a visit from the local police asking why are we there, and where are we from. To their credit they were pretty easy going about it but the thought of being dobbed in by locals for the temerity of having a roof over the head was depressing.
After a week or so the QLD government announced that they would be accepting applications again from Sunday at 8pm. By 8:05 on the sunday we had applied for hotel quarantine and once again had to sit idly by extending our stay at the holiday house day after day. After 2 days we were given news from the medical exemption team that we had “been semi successful”. As with all government directives it was unintelligible what was meant so a further phone call to the QLD helpline was answered with I have no idea what that means they should of called you to explain. I will get my manager.
Like Deja vu the manager proceeds to tell us I have no idea what that means they should have called you. Here is what they sent us:
I am writing to advise you that your request for an exemption to enter Queensland by road and home quarantine has been partially approved.
To clarify, if you are moving house to settle in Queensland and you still intend to come to Queensland you may arrive by road, however you must:
- arrive by air to Brisbane or the Gold Coast Airport (you may not enter by road);
- complete 14 days in government-arranged hotel quarantine at your own expense (you cannot complete quarantine at home);
- practice social distancing of 1.5m where possible, perform regular hand hygiene, and always wear a mask while at the airport, on the plane and while travelling to the quarantine hotel;
- agree to monitoring and COVID testing whilst in hotel quarantine, in accordance with the requirements of the Public Health Unit; and
- apply for a Queensland Entry Pass.
We appreciate that this is not the decision you were hoping for and acknowledge this may impact your plans to enter Queensland.
The Chief Health Officer delegate considers every request very carefully, weighing up the risks of COVID-19 to Queenslanders with the urgency and importance of the request. The risk of transmission of the current strain of COVID-19, the delta strain, is significantly higher than previously identified strains and travel to Queensland for the purpose of relocation does not outweigh the risk and necessary action to protect the Queensland community.
Eventually we did get a call from them a couple days later saying it meant we can get in but we have to hotel quarantine. Our exemption was now the same thing offered a few weeks ago to anybody, a stay in prison like conditions costing nearly $10,000. Seeing we were already forking out more than $1500 a week extra for accommodation and that waiting for a sensible resolution to covid restrictions is a poor bet we decided to bite the bullet and move forward with our lives.
We booked a flight from Sydney for the next day and began the journey at 10am driving to the train and catching it to the airport. The train was quiet but the scene at the airport was eerie.
The people in the airport were excited to see anyone and were talking our ear off. The security detail was the only thing that outnumbered our family and they let us know doing a random substance test on me and going through our bags several times finding nail clippers in my wifes carry on. Don’t get me wrong they were polite but I think they were exceedingly bored. The flight was comfortable with only around 20 passengers on the plane, which suggest there are kickbacks involved because it could not be profitable for Qantas to fly like this. That would also explain the strange silence coming from the airline space during these lockdowns.
We landed in Brisbane and our travel time was now around 6 hours, putting young children into less than ideal moods. But this is where it becomes farcical. As we leave the plane a human chain of police officers and SES personnel create a walkway from the gate to a processing area. They stand roughly 10 metres apart and give no indication of what exactly we are expected to do. Our kids walk straight through the human chain to the public toilets causing anxiety amongst the ranks. They can’t expect kids not to go to the toilet but now they are in a public space infecting everyone in the bathroom with covid. We stop next to a retail outlet to wait for the boys and my 2 year old daughter starts touching the shirts next to her. To clarify the human chain was in the middle of the walkway any retail outlet to the left was fair game to us covid passengers. A police officer gets the shits and gives us a dressing down about not letting the kids touch anything even though they probably don’t have it. I have now taken a vow of silence so as not to jeopardize the move and my wife becomes the spokesperson for the family.
We continue along the human chain about 100 metres and turn into another corridor where the processing facility is set up to one side. The other side is a general thoroughfare for QLD residents and is divided by cinema ropes (I kid you not). We are then put in a line without social distancing to be processed to our hotels. This it is important to note does not happen before you book a flight. It happens once you land which we were told many times during our chats despite us explaining that with a large family with special needs we would like to have an idea of the accommodation we can expect and prepare for. But I digress, we are last in the line having stopped for a toilet break and the kids are getting on each other’s nerves badly. An older police officer with an ipad comes up to begin planning. I say to him I don’t want to answer the same questions twice then remember my vowel of silence and pass off to my wife. We get yet another of the same reaction “wow 6 kids I am not sure what we will do for this one” which sets me on another rfit of quiet rage wanting to yell “ no shit that is why we tried to plan things in advance and get an exemption from this shit”. He then leaves and I wonder to myself what qualification a police officer has for organising accommodation and why they wouldn’t get a civilian with experience to do such a task. After about 30 minutes we get to the front of the queue and answer the same questions with another police officer who then directs us to another administrative person whom we answer the same questions to and then sit in a waiting bay, a bunch of close seats with the movie rope dividing us from the public.
The whole group gets a stern talking too and we begin our journey to collect our luggage. Again the human chain begins operation and I can’t but help think of the enormous wage bill being generated particularly with the difficulty I had for just 2 full time staff for my new business. Again they make a chain with large moving gaps in the middle of the walkway, our left side completely open to retail stores and food outlets. I was within a foot of at least 2 dozen people during my walk and around 10 non quarantined people walked through the chain completely unaware. We get through the departure gates and walk down a set of stairs to get our luggage. The tail end of the human chain of police and SES personnel are running down parallel stairs to get in front like a scene from monty python or scooby doo.
Our luggage pick up was amongst other domestic (not the right word but since we no longer act as a federation fitting I think) travellers with the human chain again more ineffective then a mask stopping covid particles. Once baggage was collected we were told to hop on a bus together with our family going first to make things easier which we were grateful for. This led to the most farcical scene of the day with a domestic passenger actually bumping into one of my children who doesn’t walk in a straight line. You could see the visible embarrassment of the authorities at this point.
We loaded on the bus, social distancing of course and wearing mask. Our first stop was one passenger going to international airport which was curious. Surely they should fly international from the first airport they go to, why would QLD accept another passenger who was leaving immediately. Our second stop was a hotel where one passenger got off. Why they didn’t stay with the rest of us was a mystery. Our third and final stop was for the remaining 18 or so passengers. Each group got off separately despite being together every step to date. Again we were off first being the only ones dumb enough to travel with young children.
We waited outside the bus whilst the police unloaded all the luggage. Once unloaded I was asked to load all the luggaeg onto baggage trolleys so that the same officers who unloaded the bus would not have to touch our luggage an unnecessary amount (they were fully masked and wearing gloves). This doesn’t bother me as I don’t like help traditionally so I loaded up 2 trolleys and we proceeded inside to talk to hotel management.
They handed us forms to fill out for each family member and explained that we could have 2 adjoining rooms if we were happy to have a fold out bed added to one. We agreed and then were escorted to the lifts where we were to travel up alone as its part of the new protocol. The police officer who wouldn’t travel with us would step into the lift, select the floor and then step out but as went to go up they got a message that the room wasn’t ready and we could not go up until the room was clear. We then waited in the lobby for another 15 minutes or so and then tried again. This time the lift would not work and after about 10 minutes a dozen attempts and several different people coming into the lift to try we moved to a second lift asked to stand in the corner and made our way up with the police officer inside with us.
We were given a key to both rooms and made our way inside with 6 tired kids who had been traveling now for around 10 hours. We are told that dinner will come up shortly so we decide to keep the children up to feed them. Dinner comes about 90 minutes later and the food is surprisingly good but not worth the $65 day each we are being charged. The rooms are typical hotel rooms, lovely generally but small in size. We have no balcony and no window so will have no fresh air for 14 days. We have limited direct sunlight for about 2 hours a day and for some reason hotels have poor lighting so our nights are unnecessarily dim. We do have baths which are great for the little kids and both rooms sleep 4 and are comfortable. It’s a lovely hotel so no complaints there.
The stay so far has been difficult and rewarding. I decided immediately that a strong routine would be key to getting through this well so we do a little bit of yoga after breakfast, schoolwork to lunch, screentime whilst the little one sleeps (adults do our work), screenfree time till 5, the kids have made board games, exercise and then showers before dinner and free time after. So far it has worked well, and personally I have enjoyed homeschooling immensely. It is something I have always wanted to do but I want the kids to have the social life of a mainstream school and we spend enough time together already.
Interestingly the catholic school 2 of the kids go to have an excellent online learning program for lockdown with a daily set of task to do. However without parental supervision nothing would be achieved so if you are not actively teaching your kids during lockdown it’s safe to assume they are learning nothing. The two who go to the public school have no discernible lockdown school work. As long as they sign in they are not marked absent but beyond that they do nothing. I have been giving them old naplan test to work on and working through it with them and they have told me they learn more in one hour with me than they do in weeks at school. It will be something I continue post quarantine.
Exercise is difficult in limited space but I am a qualified crossfit and zuu trainer. If you haven’t heard of Zuu look it up because it’s perfect for these kinds of conditions, currently being taught to sub mariners. So with this knowledge I thought I should be pretty sweet but on the 3rd day of quarantine new guest had arrived and been placed in the room below. A phone call was received from the hotel complaining of noise because of the workout and not wanting to rock the boat again we complied. Now all workouts can’t involve any form of jumping which was the best way to get heart rates up. We persevere but again it’s more difficult than it needs to be and feels a lot like being dobbed in for the holiday house. It would have been 20 minutes of small noise a day.
Food is reasonably good, hard for the kids who can be picky but plenty of fruit is given so they always have something to eat. A lack of vegetables is probably the main grievance at the moment. We are also allowed to order food in, but the delay between it arriving at the hotel and our room means it’s never the best quality and having no microwave doesn’t help.
I am now writing this on day 8 so over half way. I miss my privacy at this point, miss having quiet times or spaces, miss cooking for myself (although enjoying the easy clean up), miss fresh air, miss sunshine, miss walking and feel like I am in a dream like state where nothing seems quite real. The kids are doing well with the routine, bit more screentime then I would like but a compromise I am willing to make. Definitely a lot of fighting going on but that is not unusual, we have been using the bathroom as a quiet space when they get in trouble which is quite a lot. Our 2 year old girl has gone quite pasty with the lack of sunlight so she is read books in the sun around lunch time when we have it. My wife’s illness is playing up but she managed to get more medication from a local pharmacy fairly easily so we are thankful for that. A trip to the hospital would be a pandora’s box we don’t want to open.
Overall we are managing well and thankful for the little things we do get. Most people on our journey have been absolutely fine and doing their best but that is not to say that any of this is remotely acceptable. We tell our kids every day that life is not fair and to play the cards you are dealt and that is exactly what we have done. However I must invoke godwins law and can’t but help think of Nazi germany. Its something I think about every day but the parallels are more evident than ever currently. No one thinks we have Covid, several negative test have confirmed this. No one thinks a family like ours should have to stay in prison conditions without the benefit of fresh air, sunshine and then being billed for the privilege. No one thinks that a human chain is an effective covid barrier at an airport or that touching peoples luggage fully masked twice is significantly more risky than once. Yet here we are where arbitrary and contradictory decisions are made daily that affect everyone, and no one has any power to help, to answer questions, to be held accountable. Everyone is just doing what they have to to survive, no one wants to enforce stupid mask rules, shopping with people form the same household, check ins and the like yet everyone does and anyone who steps out of line is sacrificed and made an example of. A lot of the rules applied to us seem unconstitutional but there is no pushback from the legal space, or the airline space, or the tourism sector or the hospitality sector, even the construction sector went soft in Sydney. Our apathy at an individual level, and amongst all the institutions of society that are supposed to protect us from such tyranny have completely failed us. If you asked someone if they were in 1930s germany would they be a Nazi they answer no. The sad reality is 99% of people would reluctantly go along until one day they closing the door of the gas chamber rationalising that they have no choice. Every day I ask myself am I going along to do what’s best for my family or am I going along because it’s easier and I never am certain what the answer is but Australians at least need to be asking themselves that question because 14 days to flatten the curve has now turned into 14 day interment for interstate 2 year olds and their family.