We arrived in Brisbane at 8.30am Wednesday morning, stiff, relieved and pretty damn tired. It’s hot and sunny when we land and I’m reminded why I love Queensland. Michael’s parents pick us up from the airport and we stop for a coffee and mcmuffin on the highway before finally arriving at their house on the Sunshine Coast. The next couple of days we acclimatize slowly to a world (mostly) without covid. I still jump when people walk up too closely behind me on the street and find myself rummaging for my mask before entering shops. It’s an odd mix – there seems to be a half-assed effort to show that “we are taking this seriously” – QR codes appear at cafes and my physiotherapist’s consulting room, but signing up is only enforced about 40% of the time.
It hasn’t taken much to adapt to the two hour time difference however and we are getting up and going to bed relatively early. Perhaps it has something to do with having access to fresh, country air and sunshine after two weeks spent breathing recycled air under artificial light. The news is reporting transmission in a quarantine hotel in Perth (not ours thankfully) and we both field messages from concerned friends around Oz. I can’t help shake my head at the total mismanagement of the hotel quarantine system which continues to validate my concern that you are more at risk of contracting covid from within Australia’s unsanitary hotel walls than moving through international airports with a mask on your face and sanitizer on your hands.
We’re in bed early Friday night and already sleeping when I hear something at the door just after 10pm. Michael’s dad is knocking on our door. Half asleep I can hear his voice as he starts reading from an online news article “those arriving in Queensland after being in Perth from 17 April are required to get tested and self-isolate for three days.” I can’t help myself “Fuck!” I’m not sure if Michael heard it all so I poke him out of his snores. He registers his understanding and starts searching on his phone for the relevant news article. It takes him a while to find but eventually he locates it. Perth has gone into 3 day Lockdown and the other Australian states are reacting. Throughout the night I toss and turn worried about how we’re going to get tested here – it’s a long weekend starting after all, and I am not overly familiar with testing availability in the area. I’m also not sure how Michael’s family will feel having us in the house as potentially (albeit highly unlikely) infected people
Early this morning the sun is already up as I feel for my phone on the floor next to the bed. Michael wakes up and greets me “good morning quarantine buddy.” I start googling testing centres and there seem to be a few within driving distance which are open on a Saturday morning from 7 or 8am. We get out of bed, make some tea, coffee and toast and then are out the door before even showering. I’m glad that Michael’s parents don’t appear too concerned and seem to understand that while the risk of infection exists, it is pretty damn low, although this doesn’t completely assuage my anxiety about possibly infecting two somewhat elderly people. We drive to a nearby town with our surgical masks and passports and find the pathology centre. There is a back gate entrance with a covid testing sign and we can see someone in blue PPE behind the metal gate. She directs Michael to wait outside the gate and then enquires if we are here for a covid test.
We confirm that we are and she opens the gate. The testing set-up is entirely outside and it’s chilly. I’m glad I wore a jumper. “Why are you getting tested?” she asks testily. I tell her we just flew in from Perth on Wednesday. She hands us a form each to fill out and tells us we’ll need our medicare cards. “We don’t have them, we’re not Australian residents” I reply. “Well your private insurance details then” she says still testy. This is getting unnecessarily complicated. “Can we not just pay upfront ourselves and claim back later?” I ask. Now she is really irritated, and tells us she doesn’t have the facility for that, she is just following instruction, doesn’t know what they will do with insurance details, she’s just getting the information they say they need. “Things change every five minutes” she is saying. We wonder whether her shitty attitude is due to the fact that she was not scheduled to work today but was called in last minute by Queensland Health following the test and isolate directive overnight. Maybe she doesn’t like testing potential covid lepers. Well, we don’t particularly feel like being tested for the 300th time this month either, but here we all are. Luckily I have my insurance card with us and we scrawl the number on the forms.
Michael sits down on the plastic chair and our friendly swabber does a nose and throat swab as seems to be custom here in Oz rather than just one or the other as in most other places we’ve been tested. Michael handles the throat swab pretty well, I’m somewhat worried he’s going to cough all over her and she’ll clock him one in response. I see him rubbing his nose afterwards and it’s clear she’s not going to be gentle. I take my turn and open my facial orifices for her. She goes in deep with the nose swab instructing me to breathe in. I search my handbag for a tissue afterwards and this time I can feel the swab all the way into my ear. The airport testers who test thousands of people every day are far more skilled and respectful than our Aussie testing friend.
She hands Michael a sheet with instructions regarding self-isolation and we wander back to the car. I forgot to ask how we will get test results but there is information on the sheet which says we should get it via SMS in 24-48 hours. The mobile reception at the house is poor so I’m not convinced we will receive anything. I realize that they never asked for an email address.
We drive back to the house. Although we are staying with people at least we have access to tonnes of fresh air, sunshine and space to walk around. The instructions on the Queensland Health website say we are allowed to leave for exercise which means we should at least be able to go for a walk in the bush around the neighbourhood. The instructions on the sheet provided by the testing centre are slightly different, but I am inclined to follow the official State rules rather than something that’s been printed out by a local medical centre. I shake my head again internally at the lack of consistency which apparently exists within states as well as between them.
Our plans to visit the local market today have been foiled and our recent freedom curtailed once again – although at least we are back in control of our own potential exposure once more. There’s nothing to do but wait – for 3 more days.