As borders close and flights are cancelled and the toll of COVID-19 brings New York to a standstill, the same events are happening on the other side of the world, just in slow motion. I walk the empty streets of Manhattan, peering into shuttered restaurants to the hum of empty subway carts, and I am terrified that the distance between me and my family in Australia is larger than it’s ever been. In the middle of the night I ask myself: What if someone gets sick? How will I get home?
The US government is threatening to quarantine New York along with New Jersey and Connecticut, and the ability to travel might soon be laden with more bureaucracy and longer delays. Upon arrival in Australia, I would be met with a mandated two-week stay in a lonely hotel room and the travel itself is fraught with risk — to myself and to others. There are over 80,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York, and close to 2,000 deaths; there are over 4,000 cases in Australia and more than 20 deaths. To travel now from the pandemic’s epicentre would be highly irresponsible.
Every time the phone rings at an unusual interval or at an unexpected time, I do the calculations. I think about the six-hour flight to LA, the 14-hour flight to Sydney, the hour’s flight to Brisbane, and the 14-day quarantine restrictions. I hold my breath as I consider the credit I’ll need to cover the airfare. And I pray that if travel is necessary, if the situation is that desperate, then my presence (when I get there) will be a help, and not an added danger.
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I didn’t take the pandemic seriously, at first. I felt protected and emboldened by my isolation. As a 28-year old, with relatively healthy habits, I’m not at risk of becoming seriously ill, and I have very little contact with people who are — especially people I love. It’s a selfishness I shared with many millennials but as the situation worsens, and the numbers climb, the fear is now unshakeable.