Wednesday 16 March 2022

An Introduction to Flying Overseas with COVID Restrictions - Australia to Norfolk Island

Back in early November when the COVID 19 Delta strain looked to be under control in Australia we booked flights to Norfolk Island for February and Italy for July. We all know that Delta was followed by the Omicron strain and many restrictions stayed in place or got tighter. This is a story of dealing with the ever changing and always confusing rules for travel. 

 Norfolk Island had been free of COVID prior to Omicron so we were optimistic, but the arrival of the pandemic on this small island sent them into a two week lock-down. Worry! Then they had 140 mm rain in 24 hours (220 mm in four days) and there were land slides and roads washed away. How was the airstrip? Tropical cyclone Dovi passed close by and created another upset for the island and its tourist trade; no flights for several days. 

As time drew near for departure some new strict rules came into force. A Norfolk Island Travel Entry Pass was required and it had to be completed within the 24-72 hours, and a response received before departure. As we were driving to Sydney in the 24 hours before departure this became problematic. [There are still no flights flying from Melbourne to Norfolk Is.]

Initially a Travel PCR test was required and this could only be done (for us) in Melbourne at pathology clinics dealing with travellers and thus providing the necessary paperwork to prove authenticity. It needed to be done within the 48 hours prior to arrival. With pathologists totally over -run with sickness tests, the travel tests were abandoned. Panic! A negative RAT within 48 hours prior to arrival became accepted , but where to get RATs? Plus we needed two each as we had to do a second within 24 hours after arrival. As the days passed we eventually sourced some on-line, then they became available at a local pharmacy. Phew!

We applied for our Entry Passes as late as we could but at that time could not do the RATs because of the fine time line. We were granted our Passes BUT they required a 14 day quarantine restriction, which would be waived if we had undertaken the tests before departure as we indicated. No information as to how we were to prove this! And what if we did test positive at that late stage of arrangements?

The next stressful issue was that the planes were flying alternate days from Sydney or Brisbane and we were to fly first from Sydney to Brisbane then on to Norfolk Island. Our 7.05 am flight got changed to 6.05 am so there we were, up before 4 am clutching printed copies of our COVID 19 Digital Certificate, our Entry Pass, photos of our RAT with our faces, a watch with date and time, and even the test in a plastic bag (but we didn’t know if it would fade.) I had sent an email to the Incident Controller saying we had completed the tests but had not received a reply.
Checking in on-line 24 hours before departure didn’t happen as the link was down all day (probably waterlogged!) so just a little more stress to add to the mix. We had managed to get the internationally required KN96 /P2 masks so that made us feel safe in the potentially dangerous areas. We actually had to wear these masks for 11 hours from departure from the hotel, on the shuttle bus, in the airports and on the planes , and until we reached our unit. All mandatory. 

We got to the terminal early and were helped by a ‘real person’ and in no time we & our luggage were through all the Australian requirements and on our way. Transfer to the International terminal went well and there were no glitches boarding the plane. The International terminal was eerie with very few travellers and the shops closed. We did notice a PCR travel testing place for those brave enough to take that last minute gamble, or who didn’t realise they needed COVID tests for travel. 

Only four shops were open - the foreign exchange, a travel agent, a high end souvenir shop and one food outlet. This was before customs etc so didn’t invite lingering longer than a coffee and pastry.
There was some social distancing on the plane with generally only those travelling as couples/families seated together. Fly Well packs holding a mask and two sanitizing wipes were available for collection.
Once on the ground again we were greeted by friendly, easy going staff and were allowed to go free … no quarantine required.
We had a lovely, relaxing yet stimulating time revisiting all the places we know so well. We met Islanders we knew and talked of ‘the old days.’ 

Yet there was no getting away from the fact that the island, almost totally dependent on tourism, is still struggling to get back on its feet. We did our bit, dollarwise!!
So now we start to wonder what the future holds for our Italian trip. Time will tell!