'We're all in this together' | a message from locals in self-isolation

On January 26 when Australia had confirmation of just four cases of COVID-19, two Nambucca Valley residents (who'd prefer to remain anonymous) set out on their planned six-week holiday in Thailand.

At that point coronavirus didn't register in the consciousness of most Aussies, who were just starting to recover from the worst bushfire season in recorded history. The acronym 'COVID-19' wasn't even a thing yet.

Elsewhere in the world, however, things were starting to change quickly.

"We travelled by air from Brisbane - Kuala Lumpur - Bangkok - ChiangMai, and noticed a number of checks/procedures at airports with the exception of our departure from Brisbane," our two jetsetting locals said.

"We spent one hour each morning and each evening researching COVID-19 and checking Australian news sites hoping to see some action, as we were witnessing major changes in Thailand - temperature checks at shopping centres and supermarkets, as well as publicly available hand sanitiser everywhere, even on 60-year-old buses.

In late January Thai people were handing out face masks in airports. Everywhere we went there was some level of control.

But there was no action on the homefront.

The Nambucca Valley couple said they took it upon themselves to practice caution while travelling and staying in 19 different hotels along their journey. They avoided tourist hotspots, and opted for public buses over tourist ones, knowing the virus was being brought in by foreigners.

"We actually attempted to socially isolate without having heard the term. Why? Simply caution, and because we felt it was common sense," they said.

On March 6 when the pair were on their way home they transited through Kuala Lumpur - a city in which 10,000 people (many international pilgrims) had just days before gathered for a three-day religious festival.

They avoided the city, but were boarded onto a flight with hundreds of other passengers whose daily activities were obviously unknown.

They touched down in Brisbane and were cleared for reentry into the country - at that stage Thailand was not considered one of the countries which posed a risk.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer had just days before warned it was "no longer possible to absolutely prevent new cases coming in".

And the Federal Government was in the middle of putting together the first economic stimulus plan ahead of predicted wide-spread job losses and an economic downturn.

"We were disappointed that we were able to enter largely unchecked, and with no advice as to any future actions to take," they said.

"We would have thought somebody might have been interested in testing us."

"We exited the airport, travelled home and bunkered down in self-isolation for two weeks up to March 20."

They did this out of a strong sense of civic duty, because mandatory self-isolation for people returning from overseas wasn't introduced until 10 days later.

They also religiously checked the list of flights in and out of Brisbane to see if theirs was discovered to be one of the 'at risk' ones. It wasn't.

"We had contact with our doctor for advice and a whooping cough vaccine shot," they said.

"I also had cause to visit outpatients a week later for a lingering poisoned thumb where I had it lanced and dressed - once again in isolation, and following health protocols."

They said they couldn't fault the diligence and expertise shown by local medical practitioners.

We did our level best to ensure that if we were carriers of the virus, that we did not allow it to be transferred to any people in our community, area or country.

"Our doctor told us we were 'model return travellers'. Our actions were done based on common sense and sense of responsibility and respect."

They also opted to stay away as a grandchild was born - instead having to suffice with photos and videos.

They displayed no symptoms and don't believe they contracted the disease on their travels, but the what ifs swirl around their heads.

"My gripe is simply that from when we left Australia we watched on in despair for weeks before any positive and definite action was made by our Government," they said.

"But this is not the time for gripes."

They say that what is needed right now is positive, proactive, and innovative action by all individuals in our community; the responsibility for our shared future must be met with a shared commitment to do what is necessary.

"Quite simply the lesson we would like to spread is to simply practice the old but forgotten adage: 'Ask not what my country can do for me, but what can I do for my country'."

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