Ethical travel in the times of Covid.
On the very last night of a 10-day tour around Tasmania, Fred tested positive. A bold red line was accompanied by a faint little pink one on the RAT test that the hotel staff had provided alongside some toasties for dinner.
“If you don’t mind, it would probably be a good idea to test,” said the owner. We had done so that morning and were both negative, but the minor cough had turned to a head cold at lunch and, as it happened, covid by the evening.
Our guests returned merrily and a little tipsy from their big night out, to the news that we would all need to test, isolate, and await further orders from Tasmanian Health in the morning.
Morning turned to midday, midday to afternoon, and as many times as the clock passed the hour our fate pivoted 180 degrees. We were to stay on Flinders Island; were to leave; to fly to NSW. No wait! we were heading to Launceston. This afternoon? no, tomorrow.
200 phone calls later, several tireless efforts by car hire companies, airlines and hotels, we found ourselves on a chartered Sharp Airlines flight to Launnie. It must be said that was wonderful to us going above and beyond to do everything they could to keep themselves and us happy and safe.
To reach the flight we would drive to Flinders Island Airport in convoy with the windows down; meet a Police car with flashing lights cordoning off the general public; arrive and position our four rental cars in front of the luggage trolly where Michael, in full PPE, ceremoniously removed our luggage one piece at a time; the cars then moved in procession to the Royal Flying Doctor area, where we were allowed to disembark the infested vehicles, don black gloves and new N95 masks. The old were thrown into hazmat bins.
Our kitted-up pilots explained lifejacket use and emergency procedures on the grass, upwind, then invited us to board the plane. This was done in order with the most infected at the back to the cleanest at the front, a measure put in place to protect the pilots. It was probably about as effective as the old grey curtain that was pulled between the growing number of covid positive passengers in the back and the cockpit crew up the front. 50mins later we were escorted through the back gate of Launceston airport and into hotel quarantine.
Peppers Seaport. Nice right? Well, yes. Fred and I have a 1 bedroom apt with a big kitchen, laundry, bathroom, and every appliance you’d need to live away from home for months. The bed is comfortable, there is internet, and, being blessed with a placement on the right side of the building, we have a damn fine view of the Tamar River.
For the first few days it was fine, but not home, but as the meals became repetitive, the toilet paper rationed, and news of our departure withheld, the comfy bed and the internet were as much comfort as the shiny kettle with no coffee, tea or sugar - “You get that with breakfast.” Attempts to order supplies are restricted by the number of times staff are allowed to bring things to your room.
“This is not a hotel, it’s a government-run facility”
My thoughts go to refugees in detention several times a day as I sit in our room. Removing people’s agency is a killer. Perhaps that’s why when one of our guests told reception she was fighting depression from not knowing her release date, she had someone ring 3 mins later. She had been waiting 36 hours.
Despite feeling a growing desire to leave Leppers Seaport, I need to say that I am trying hard not to sound like a spoilt brat. I believe in keeping the rest of the community safe by isolating in whatever form that takes, but what I am keen to stress is the complexity of travel right now. Quite honestly, I would have thought that 10 days around the windy, open country of Tasmania, would have been fine. We would eat our way merrily through King Island Cheeses and down Pinots from the Coal Valley, looking for aurora and counting stars along the way. We’d go home with a phone full of photos a few kilos heavier.
So, to end our journey with 7–10 days of quarantine and 11 of 14 people sick with covid is frightening, particularly with a demographic where age and illness are high. 7 days may be ok when you’re at home with your books, laptop and cat, but many of our guests have nothing more than their mobile phone to keep them company, some on different floors from their partner due to their covid status. My fellow inmates are really struggling with the lack and the loneliness, and fret about the additional costs of this enforced extended stay.
As such, the fear of repeating this experience has led to the postponement of our Arnhem land tour next month. I could not bear to inflict another end of holiday experience like this on my guests, nor bring the threat of illness to local communities for the sake of a holiday. Some of the future guests agree; some are travelling anyway, and others just want their money back.
As we enter the third year of travel interruptions, what is the best way forward? Re-establish and support the travel industry and the people who work in it again, if so at what cost? Just because borders are open, and the government says we ‘can’ is it the ethical thing to do?
It’s all just part of “living with covid,” right?