Friday was another cold, frosty day in lockdown across England, in what has become a bleak winter.
But thousands of Australians living in the UK didn’t have to go outside to feel the chill, as they woke to news their chances of getting home soon had once again been reduced.
Australia had coldly, closed another door.
“If we are not going to be able to get on our flights, we’re essentially potentially going to be homeless,” Kyren Lazarus said.
The scientist based in Cambridge and his wife have flights booked home to Perth in early February.
But as Kyren slept, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia’s response to a more contagious strain of COVID-19 circulating in Britain would be to slash the number of Australians who can arrive in their homeland; just 500 a week will be allowed into Kyren’s home state of Western Australia.
The strain was first publicly identified in southern England in early December and is now in at least 33 other countries.
New South Wales recorded cases of the variant in hotel quarantine at least a month ago.
‘Knee jerk reaction’
“I would have hoped that the Australian Government were looking ahead and not just making knee jerk reactions as we’ve seen over the past weeks and months,” the 33-year-old said.
Kyren’s lease runs out at the end of January, he’s already planning a few days in a hotel prior to his flight but knows his seat could be taken away from him any day.
“I think that the people who are going to be on those flights are the people who have already been bumped, as has been happening for the past six months.”
‘Getting bumped’ has been a regular occurrence for Australians who manage to book a flight on the small number of carriers still operating between the UK and Australia.
With a government-mandated number of seats available, fares are inflated, and travel agents are advising booking a business class fare increases your chances of getting home as airlines seek to board the highest paying passengers.
Now, there’ll be even fewer slots available.
For many, it’s the equivalent of spending money in a casino – outlaying huge amounts with no guarantee of return.
Hilary Davidson left Sydney last March before the pandemic was declared, for what she thought, would be a two-week work trip.
But the historian, who lectures at Australian universities, hasn’t been home since.
“I’m angry,” she says, holding back tears.
The announcement of incoming passenger caps being halved, coincided with Hilary’s sixth flight cancellation.
“I’m despairing. I feel abandoned by the Australian Government, that they’re not doing anything to support and get home the thousands of people like me, who just want to go home,” she said.
“And to reduce the caps again, I don’t know how I’m going to tell my mother this. She’s in her 70’s and lives alone and I’m worried about her.”
After teaching online, in a different time zone for two semesters, Hilary is desperate to return to her job.
“The new university term is starting. I teach at the University of New South Wales and at TAFE and that makes me a government employee and an essential worker, and I still can’t get home to teach Australian students,” she added.
‘The value of your Australian passport is contingent on your bank account.’
“It just reinforces a fact that has been true since March, the value of your Australian passport is contingent on your bank account,” says Hayley Pring, an Australian student at Oxford University who’s managed to secure a rare seat on a Government-organised repatriation flight next week.
“I’m very fortunate, I’m very grateful for the flight, but it’s very stressful and really difficult,” she says, empathising with her fellow Australians, who aren’t as lucky.
“Further cutting caps rather than addressing the root cause of the problem is just a band-aid.”
Efforts to get home are continually hobbled by a lack of seats, due to the cap on arrivals.
“(The Australian Government) have had six months now, to plan for bigger facilities and a bigger movement of people into the country to get citizens home, in accordance with the UN human rights act,” Hilary Davidson said, frustrated by what is perceived to be a lack of action by Canberra.
Alex Nicholson has managed to make it back to Australia with his wife and son from Scotland, but only after being bumped from a flight in November.
They’re currently in quarantine in Sydney, after spending £9200 (AUD 16,000) on rare economy flights to get home, plus the cost of quarantine.
He says he feels “extorted”.
“It’s the price of a car, or half of a deposit for a house. Our future has been set back financially. But it’s a price to pay for a better life,” he said, as Britain faces an indefinite lockdown.
“The Australians stranded are in debt up to their eyeballs trying to get home and will do whatever it takes to get home to Australian soil.
“Many are waiting weeks for airlines to refund cancelled tickets and can’t clear credit cards to rebook new ones.”
A move many Aussies overseas see as sensible, but warn may exacerbate existing problems.
“Those test cost between £100 and £200 (AUD 175-350), so if you’re dropping that kind of money on a flight that might be cancelled, it’s kind of a big thing to ask of people,” Hayley Pring said.
As the costs mount, Australians in the UK watch the situation around them get worse.
1 in 30 Londoners has Covid according to the Mayor, Sadiq Khan.
Many Aussies thought they could ride out the pandemic with jobs in Britain, only to be made redundant. Others have tried to get home but have had multiple flights cancelled.
Some now see daily case numbers regularly above 60,000 and can no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel.
As he awaits news on his flight, Kyren implores Australians, and the Australian Government to “think about the thousands and thousands of people around the world, including in the UK, who could be in a real dire situation if this doesn’t get fixed”.
“I think for all the stranded Aussies around the world, but particularly in the UK, it’s going to be a tough time. A really tough time.”
With many feeling like they’ve been left out in the cold by their own nation.