Sarah Todd On Navigating International Travel Restrictions During A Pandemic

I am writing to you now as I sit in a state of limbo halfway around the world. In April, I embarked on my essential travel to India, full of hope as I set out to visit the vibrant country I call my second home.

I have dedicated the best part of the last seven years of my life to opening restaurants, collaborating with brands, and shooting numerous television shows in India. However, it is not just my business that brings me back to this country but its people.

As I suited up with a face mask, doubled with a face shield and hand sanitiser, I was in a state of total anxiety. When arriving at Melbourne’s usually bustling airport, I could barely see a handful of people preparing to take an international flight. Australia’s management of COVID has meant that most of us were fortunate to not feel the full impact of this pandemic. Due to the lockdown and the closure of state borders, I had only one domestic flight home to Queensland to see my family after nearly 12 months apart. This eerie airport scene evoked very different emotions. Apart from myself and the flight steward, the cabin was empty.

I had a two-day stop-over in Dubai as I could not get a direct flight to India. It was here that I learned the devastating news that the second wave of COVID was wreaking havoc in India. Australia had banned flights from India, which made it impossible for me to continue my trip. I decided to stay in Dubai for the time being.

Everyone I know in India has been affected by this insidious virus, and I feel utterly helpless. I was on my way to Goa to support the dedicated team at my restaurant, Antares. They provided free meals to the elderly and COVID positive patients and their families in North Goa until a lockdown was imposed on May 9. Each day nutritious meals of dal, mixed vegetables, salad, and rice were home delivered to these vulnerable families. I am incredibly proud of my team and their generosity and resolve to help others in one of India’s darkest hours. Hopefully, the lockdown will be lifted on May 31, and we will continue this much-needed service.

I love that Australia embraces diversity and encourages Australians to develop strong links with other countries. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as of June 2020, 30% of Australians were born overseas. For those people like me who have professional and personal links to India, the impact of the pandemic is incredibly distressing. Not only are families separated, but the uncertainty of when a reunion is possible causes immense anxiety and a feeling of helplessness.

Many of our fellow Australians living in India are waiting to return home. Essential travel should include the very human necessity of reuniting families. In 2020, nearly every single country from around the world was represented in Australia’s population.

As I contemplate these uncertain times, I encourage all Australians to get vaccinated so we can reduce the threat of community transmission on our shores. My 83-year-old grandmother was vaccinated without hesitation. She has five children, 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren (number 11 is due in July). COVID is not going to prevent her from seeing them.

Thank you Nan, because I cannot live without your warm hugs.

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