“The worst-case scenario is I’ll have to quarantine for two weeks at home”.
This is what I told friends and colleagues before leaving Hobart bound for Melbourne to visit the children I hadn’t seen since Christmas.
That was four weeks ago and I had no idea how wrong I was.
I arrived in Melbourne the day Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein announced the state’s borders would reopen on July 24, the day before my planned return to Hobart.
Every government announcement since, whether Tasmanian or Victorian, has underscored the folly of my optimism.
As Victoria’s COVID-19 case numbers continued to rise, it was quickly apparent Tasmania would not reopen its border with Victoria any time soon.
The blindside was Tasmania mandating hotel quarantine without notice for people returning from Victoria.
That prompted a flurry of activity and communication. I applied to be exempted from hotel quarantine and to quarantine at home instead.
I was travelling alone and living alone. I was well prepared to quarantine and with support from the Hobart newsroom I could continue to work from home.
I was prepared to leave Melbourne and my children early, but only if I could home quarantine and minimise the impact on work.
I first applied for an exemption on Friday, July 10, with supporting documentation from myself and the ABC.
On Wednesday, July 15, I was told my application wouldn’t be processed and that I should try again on the new G2G app, which was about to go live.
So the next day, I started my second application, still unsure if an exemption was possible, ticking my nominated category “Tasmanian Resident — isolating at home”.
It asked for my Tasmanian drivers licence number, then rejected my application for failing to provide proof of Tasmanian residency.
I applied a third time and, to my surprise, my new application, with a copy of my licence, was approved within three hours.
My notification reads: “Category of Applicant: Tasmanian Resident isolating at home.” “Application Status — APPROVED.”
Consequently, I changed my travel plans, left my children early, and boarded the Spirit of Tasmania on Tuesday night.
Before boarding I re-read my exemption and became sufficiently nervous to tweet this.
On arrival in Devonport, Biosecurity officers said I had to go into hotel quarantine and could not explain the contradiction of my G2GPASS exemption approval.
They provided me with a new face mask and directed me to join a convoy behind a police car and we were escorted to a dockside parking lot.
After 12 hours of isolation in a cabin on the Spirit, I had to park my car [also in isolation] then board a bus with more than 20 others also returning from Melbourne to be transferred to our Devonport hotel.
I think the least safe place I have been in the past four weeks was on board the bus where social distancing became impossible.
I’m not the only one who has been left confused by the quarantine process.
Tasmanian woman Erin arrived back in the state on Monday.
“Instead of just coming into contact with the health officer at the airport and the person coming to pick me up, I’ve probably now just come into contact with about 30 other people all from the plane, as well as just a bunch of police officers, plus the bus driver.”
She said she had been told others were having the same experience.
“The lady this morning told me that she was having to deal with around 20 other people that were having the exact same issue as me — Tasmanian residents who were supposed to be quarantining at home but were stuck in government quarantine.”
Tasmanian Labor said it had heard concerns about the use of the app and quarantine transfers.
Opposition spokesman David O’Byrne said: “It’s not good enough just to pack people on a bus and push them off to a hotel and hope for the best.”
G2G information being updated to make ‘clearer’
In a statement, a spokesperson from DPIPWE said “all travellers to Tasmania should be aware of the requirements” of quarantining to address the “significant threat to the health of the Tasmanian community”.
“This advice has been provided widely in media, advertising and on the coronavirus website.
“Regarding G2G, the approval permit issued to Tasmanian residents clearly states if the traveller needs to go into government quarantine.
“The Exemption category on the permit granted refers to the exemption requested by the traveller, not the exemption that has been approved. The G2G PASS website is currently being reviewed to update the categories to make this clearer.
“There will be some delays in the processing of travel applications during the cross-over period between the new and old system and we thank all travellers for their patience.”
Tasmanian Health Minister Sarah Courtney today told the ABC: “We think that this is a really important app that’s going to help Tasmanians.
The Tasmanian Government’s liaison officer overseeing Devonport’s Gateway Hotel called me to address my concerns.
After chatting with him, it now appears I have been granted an exemption merely to enter Tasmania, to cross an otherwise-closed border.
As a Tasmanian resident I would have thought I didn’t need an exemption to enter the state.
I sought an exemption to hotel quarantine and that is what I understood I had applied for on three separate occasions.
All of my supporting documentation referenced quarantine at home. Maybe the app didn’t read it.
I have checked into Devonport’s Gateway Hotel. My room is very nice, but small.
A makeshift exercise yard in the car park is only marginally bigger. I can see it from my window. It takes up six parking spaces.
Hotel meals are delivered to my door and placed on a chair outside my room.
There are many worse places to be in the world right now — but if I had my time again I’d still be with my kids.