I feel like if you are travelling Australia and visiting people catching COVID is somewhat inevitable. Don’t get me wrong we have been doing everything we can to minimise the risks, we have masks, we social distance as much as possible from others, we’re fully vaccinated, I wash my hands obsessively because it has become very obvious it is physically impossible for me not to touch my face. Unfortunately our luck ran out when I got a call from Phoebe the morning we left the Snowy Mountains that we’d been identified as a close contact of a case. What I was surprised about was how utterly incompetent not only the public health information system was in Canberra, but how useless it also was in NSW and VIC.
That morning dawned in spectacular hues of pink and orange over the Tom Groggin campsite. We had breakfast, packed up, and were trundling our way into Victoria when I received the dreaded phone call. Our dinner at Lazy Su was at the exact same window as when a COVID case was there, what made matters worse was the social distancing while we were there was sub optimal as it was so busy. Because Matt was driving I started the nightmare of working out what we were meant to do. There were 3 main issues I identified: 1) We were no longer in the state where we were exposed, 2) We didn’t have much in the way of food in the van and 3) We have no fixed address, no toilet and therefore live in “unsuitable accomodation” for quarantine. I started off by calling CBR public health and explained we were now in Victoria rather than the ACT, their instructions were clear and simple. If you are in another state you now need to follow their rules. Ok, I naively thought to myself, that’s easy enough to do. I then called Victoria Health and things started to go poorly. At first they couldn’t grasp the concept of how someone had travelled to another state as a close contact and it took a tedious length of time for me to to get them to understand that people can travel a long way in a few days while living in a van. I then spent close to two hours on the phone trying to work out where we were meant to stay and not a single person was able to give me a plan. Right, I said to Matt, stuff it, it’s nearly Christmas (22nd December), we just better find a testing clinic ASAP, wear masks if we need to get out of the van, and work out what we do after we get a swab. Following some hasty research online I realised that the Victorian Health System was so over run with tests we wouldn’t get ours back in time to meet with my family for Christmas, so I picked a testing hub in Albury NSW banking on their system being at least a little bit faster. After getting swabs shoved up our snoots we drove back into Victoria and I got back on the phone. Another couple of hours later I realised that there was next to no system for people with no fixed address, that the people on the helpline don’t have any great understanding of infectious disease, and the entire process was at breaking point. I kid you not the man I spoke to on the phone told Matt and I to stay at a caravan park with shared facilities. I explained to him that if the worst case scenario occurred and Matt and I had COVID that it probably wouldn’t be in the best interest of the community if we stayed somewhere full of grey nomads and asked if he had any other ideas. He did not. Right, I thought to myself, I’m not having that, we are going to go bush, proper bush, and see no one, avoid everything, and do our business in a home made hole. And so we did.
Our second day of quarantine was possibly more annoying than the first. I got up and made us crepes for breakfast while making a mental note that we maybe had 2 days of food left in the van, not ideal. I then got back on the phone and after another 3 hours managed to get a hold of a male contact tracer that gave us the answers we needed. He told us to stay put, but if we ran out of food we could do a contactless pick up at Coles. Excellent. We went on a nice walk around our new massive back yard and basically sat around doing bugger all. Matt provided me with some light entertainment when he decided that rather than digging a hole to do his business in like a normal person stuck in the bush running out of food and waiting for swab results, that he would make a hole near a log and then sit on the log like it was a toilet. This some how resulted in him wetting his pants. I laughed so hard when he got back into camp I nearly wet mine too. Ah good times (note: I asked permission before sharing this story). That evening I got a miraculous text message from NSW health that my swab was negative and I was free. Matt still hadn’t received his so I called the pathology lab, explained the situation and checked all his details. The woman on the phone realised the phone number for his results was wrong so we fixed that. She also told me that our swabs were probably split into different batches and Matts would take longer to process but she’d chase it up.
Christmas Eve morning and still no text message for Matt. I’m not going to lie I was in a bit of a state, Christmas is my absolute favourite holiday and I desperately wanted to spend it with my family not shitting in a hole and eating flour and water for dinner. I think he realised how upset I was so he suggested that we just go to my aunt and uncles house and loiter out the front until we got the ok. The reality was if I didn’t have it the chance he would was minimal and our friends results also came back negative. We arrived at the house at lunch time and at 2pm Matt received the amazing news that he was also negative. I was so happy. We made it to Christmas.
Random forrest in the middle of nowhere – Zero facilities, nice trees, turned into our own personal hell where all I did was talk on the phone. $Free – 5/10.