Dr Owain Williams By: Dr Owain Williams
Lecturer in IR and Human Security
View profile and Diary

18 Mar 2020 : Dubai to Brisbane

I expect to be scanned and screened at Dubai. My fear is of being stuck here in some limbo – any temperature etc. But there is nothing; we all glide through security and into the lights, shops, the oasis of late capitalism that is DHX. Everything is working here, it is all open and glitzy with duty free shops full of punters. Finally, I board flight to Melbourne and thank my lucky stars and text Kylie and parents: ‘I’m on”. Again, a full A380 but with a many voluble and very happy Australians. I see one family high fiving – good for them. For 14 hours I do not sleep. One announcement made about COVID-19 and the new measures for self-isolation (non-supervised) in Australia. We also get hand outs on African swine flu. I am sitting next to two Kiwi girls going home from their student exchange year in Paris. They describe the closure of a city I love and have lived in at one point, no cafes, supermarket queues, police patrols and desolate streets and stations. They have left and abandoned belongings and flat deposits.

Landing in Melbourne was probably both a moment of relief and disbelief in equal measure. We touch down at 6 am on the 19th. There is no screening or advice on self-isolation. I tell the agent what I am doing in Brisbane, going into an Air BnB on my own. She smiles blandly. She has no mask, as with the majority of border staff. I walk through customs and it is just totally careless, reckless to the point of incomprehension. People coming off these flights (including myself) may be infected. Many will not isolate, and it is catastrophic. What I feel most is guilt. Guilt at travelling and guilt that I cannot protect other from myself. Crushing feeling. It is now the 19th March (a Thursday). I see Qantas staff taking a selfie in front of a departure board: a long list of cancelled flights blinking in red. My flight is all others seem cancelled up until the scree cuts off at 14.00. I just want to get on a back.

We have agreed a protocol for when I land and get out. I meet Kylie in the car park I strip to underpants and sanitize hands, face and hair (?!) and put all clothes and luggae in black bin bag. I sanitize hand, dress in clean clothes and put on a mask. Then I sit in the back seat with all windows and we drive to the rental flat. Of course, we talk, but it mostly lists and planning and expressions of complete relief. I am absolutely wrung out, feel myself shutting down. She drops me off and we chat for 2o minutes across a huge deck in a subterranean AirBnB just two streets from home and 2 year old daughter who has not been told I am so close, and will not be. I shower and collapse into bed with a cold beer and sleep until the next day.

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