An Australian man and his mum are due to fly home soon – but our nation’s recent success has locked them in a bizarre limbo.
A NSW man, due to land in Sydney in a matter of weeks, has found himself in a bizarre predicament, and it’s all thanks to Australia’s success with its Covid vaccine rollout.
Gus Chalhoub and his 77-year-old mother were granted an exemption by the government to leave Australia in July to care for an elderly family member in Lebanon.
The mother and son, from the NSW city of Wollongong, have been in Lebanon since July 6 and are due to land in Sydney late on October 31.
As Australia’s vaccination rate ramps up, so too is the discussion around throwing out the arduous hotel quarantine arrangement for fully vaccinated Australians.
NSW will reopen international travel from next month, when the nation is expected to hit 80 per cent double dose of its 16-plus population.
Qantas and other international airlines have already embraced the reopening promise, scheduling flights to and from Los Angeles and London from as early as November 18, when it’s expected fully vaccinated Australians will be able to quarantine at home for seven days, instead of spending thousands of dollars to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days.
But pressure is building in NSW to bring its home quarantine date forward quicker, with a recent report from news.com.au suggesting Premier Dominic Perrottet and Prime Minister Scott Morrison were in talks to bring home quarantine for vaccinated Australians up to November 1.
This has left Mr Chalhoub, who will likely be walking out of Sydney Airport just minutes after the clock ticks over to November 1 – in a peculiar situation.
Mr Chalhoub is due to land at Sydney International Airport just before 11pm on October 31.
“I took a risk by getting the Astra Zeneca vaccine in early May and June, I’m under 50, but I had to take that risk to get the exemption and get to Lebanon,” he told news.com.au.
Mr Chalhoub’s aunty, his mother’s sister, is in her mid-80s, and needed them to come to Lebanon and care for her.
Both Mr Chalhoub and his mother are Australian citizens but were born in Lebanon and have family over there.
“We’ve got no one else in Australia, it’s just my mother and I,” he said.
Mr Chalhoub said he was excited to get back to Australia, where the Covid situation was the only thing he and his mother would have to worry about.
“We got to Lebanon not realising how bad the situation is, there’s a power shortage, a petrol shortage, a diesel shortage. The local currency has lost all its value, which has been quite difficult. I can’t wait to get back where it’s safe, we’re lucky in Australia,” he said.
“There’s demonstrations and protests over here, you can’t get money out of the ATM and if you go to fill up your car with petrol, you either have to bribe someone or wait two hours for one tank. It’s quite scary.”
Mr Chalhoub said he and his mother were getting increasingly concerned about the prospect of hotel quarantine.
“Obviously it’s going to cost a lot – $4000 – and I did put in an exemption request but that was denied,” he said.
“They said even though you’re both fully vaxxed, you’re both still high risk and you’re travelling from very far and you could potentially carry it from overseas.
“My mum also suffers from anxiety and from what I’ve heard, the quarantine is quite strict, it’s something that obviously we’ve never had to experience in the past and $4000 is a lot of money, considering how much we’ve spent to get to Lebanon, including the extra PCR tests we had to take.”
Mr Chalhoub and his mother live together in Wollongong and he owns his own freestanding house, with it being highly unlikely the two would come into contact with anyone else during their quarantine period.
“We’re both law-abiding citizens, we’ve never had any issues with the law or the police,” he said.
“We would be more than happy to quarantine, get stuff delivered, get our groceries delivered, it’s just Mum and I at our house … we won’t run away or escape.”
Mr Chalhoub joked it “would kill me” if they’re put in hotel quarantine just hours before the home quarantine arrangement kicks in.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t get the trial because we’re perfect candidates, if we miss out by a few hours, that’ll kill me,” he said.
In a statement, NSW Health said it was unable to commit to a November 1 date for home quarantine due to the trials only kicking off this week.
“The NSW Government is trialling a home quarantine program to support Australians returning from overseas, with the first participants commencing home quarantine on Monday, 11 October,” NSW Health said.
“Under the program, around 175 fully vaccinated people will participate in the pilot and will be able to quarantine at home for seven days, instead of the current 14 days in a quarantine hotel.
“NSW Health is selecting a broad range of participants who had previously submitted an application for exemption to hotel quarantine, along with international aircrew who reside in NSW as well as a small number of non-Australian citizens, to ensure the program can be tested under varying circumstances.”
The lucky 175 chosen for the trial are required to use an app, first tested in South Australia, that tells police exactly where they are.
“Selected participants will be formally notified of their acceptance into the pilot program prior to arriving in Australia and given instructions on how to safely self-isolate at home.
“They will be required to regularly sign onto an app that will geolocate their whereabouts and submit to a Covid test on day 6 and day 14.”
NSW Health said its home quarantine trial would run until the end of October.
“If successful the NSW Government will consider expanding home quarantine to fully vaccinated incoming Australian and international travellers.”