When Scott Morrison told Aussies abroad to come home in March amid the worsening COVID-19 crisis, young parents Sanjay Fernandes and Carla dal Forno had no choice but to stay put in London.
After waiting more than five months to secure a passport for seven-month-old Sally, the Melburnians are booked and ready to fly but uncertainty prevails.
The October 29 Singapore Airlines flight which is due to deliver the trio home to the loving arms of family, might not be able to land as planned.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed last week that inbound international passenger flights won’t restart until receipt of a final report into Melbourne’s bungled hotel quarantine program.
“The program is being reset … but the inquiry may make further findings that should be implemented before the program resumes,” a state government spokeswoman told AAP.
The inquiry – established to investigate the use of private security guards at quarantine hotels in Melbourne, which ultimately led to a second wave of pandemic cases, killing hundreds of people – concluded on Monday.
The report is due to be handed down on November 6, almost two weeks later than Melbourne airport’s tentative restart date of October 24.
Fernandes, 32, told AAP there wasn’t a single reference to the airport in the state government’s “roadmap” to recovery.
“I’m frustrated with the lack of policy.”
The family has already faced disappointment once, when their original October 1 Melbourne-bound flight was cancelled as Victoria remained in lockdown.
Fernandes and dal Forno, who both work in the music industry but are currently without work, would have left the UK earlier but it took more than five months to get a passport for their newborn daughter.
Australia will lift the number of monthly international arrivals to 5500 in October, up by 1500 across NSW, Queensland and WA.
It’s unknown if previously-scheduled flights can be diverted to a different destination.
Fernandes and his family are on a waitlist for two other flights, with one bound for Sydney on October 30.
When he contacted Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office for help, the response was clear.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-100-year event – an international health crisis,” the September 10 letter reads.
“It is why I asked Australians to return home on 17 March 2020.”
Fernandes was left questioning the value of his citizenship.
“Does that mean we just don’t travel overseas for fear that the country will close its borders to its own citizens,” he asks.
“That side of it boggles my mind.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told AAP it had expanded its financial assistance program for the most vulnerable Australian citizens stuck overseas, but declined to comment on individual cases.
Fernandes said his family could have flown to Sydney in mid-October but he thought taking a direct route was the “safest bet”.
“We were told that there were very few domestic flights between major cities and that the cost of these were pretty prohibitive,” he said.
“We’d also been in touch with (Victorian health authorities) before the lockdown to organise a special quarantine arrangement for Sally.
“We thought rather than going through this again in another city it would just be easier to arrive in Melbourne.”
Fernandes appreciates reopening hotel quarantine in Victoria is politically fraught.
But he wants governments to own the consequences of their decisions which, in this case, could keep hundreds of Victorians from flying home this month.
“I understand our situation isn’t a sympathetic one to Australians in Australia,” the young father said.
“They’re like ‘who cares?’, but what’s the right thing to do for citizens who are overseas in very precarious circumstances.”
Callum Godde in Melbourne