In the last moments she would ever have with her father, Natalia Southern only had 30 minutes to say goodbye.
Upon entering her hospital room, she couldn’t touch her father or hold his hand. She couldn’t whisper in his ear how much she loved him – she couldn’t even come within 6 feet of him.
Her mother and brother were not allowed to be in the room with her while he was dying. She was alone.
Southern’s father Manuel Nunes, 88, did not have the coronavirus. As far as she knows, neither does she.
But Southern had traveled to his Perth, Western Australia hospital from Melbourne, where cases of COVID-19 has jumped in recent weeks in the middle of a disruption of the country’s quarantine procedures.
The exemption from humanitarian release granted to him by government officials to leave Melbourne’s strict confinement and go to his father’s bedside after he died of vascular disease only extended ‘to this brief farewell.
When he died less than 10 hours later, she was alone, back at the Perth city center hotel where she and other arrivals in the city were forced to quarantine for two weeks.
“The biggest fear you have is that you will never make it on time and be there at the end,” she told BuzzFeed News through tears in a phone interview since. his hotel room. “Even though I got there for 30 minutes, I would have stayed with him until the end if I could.”
Southern’s story illustrates the heartbreak faced by those in Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, as they undergo a second lockdown aimed at reducing the spread of the virus. There was 403 new confirmed coronavirus infections and five deaths in Victoria Thursday, according to Head of State Prime Minister Daniel Andrews. That number was only slightly down from Wednesday’s record of 484 new cases.
Until recent weeks, Australia had seen relatively few cases of the coronavirus. All inbound passengers from overseas have been forced to quarantine in hotel rooms for 14 days as a precaution, and the federal government shutting down many businesses and ordering size limits at social gatherings in March as part of an aggressive social distancing campaign.
Over time, life slowly returned to a certain sense of normalcy. There had even been discussions about opening a “travel bubble” with New Zealand, where the virus has been effectively eradicated.
But then the second wave came.
Officials have investigated the re-emergence of the virus in such high numbers in Victoria, with evidence suggesting most cases could be linked to the hotel’s quarantine program, with allegations of poorly trained security personnel and even sex between some private security guards and returning travelers.
Mask-wearing is now mandatory in Melbourne, where residents undergo another six-week lockdown that is expected to take a billions of dollars in the Australian economy.
People are only allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons and large gatherings are once again banned, with police handing heavy fines to rule breakers. In one case, 16 guests at a house party were fined a total of AU $ 26,000, or around US $ 18,000, when authorities discovered the rally after being alerted to a Exceptionally large KFC order placed after midnight.
Other states have closed their borders with Victoria for the first time in a century.
Southern, who first shared her story with Australian public broadcaster Wednesday, told BuzzFeed News that she understood why tough measures were needed. Although the lockdown has been difficult for her athletic children, an 11-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter, she said her family is doing only the best they can.
But she is still reeling from how difficult it was for her to get permission to be with her father, having to navigate a confusing mess of confusing bureaucracy, mixed responses and, ultimately, a strict and sterile farewell that ultimately left her. been allowed.
“I have no problem with them saying you have to wear a mask, you have to stay indoors, you have to isolate yourself,” she said. “But the system says they will allow compassion. It means that you are trying to find a way to balance the security with the needs of the individual in this extraordinary circumstance, and that is not what I see.
“I don’t know of any circumstance where if your immediate family is expected to die – isn’t that the most extreme circumstance? What else could there be?”
What hurts the most, Southern said, is that she can’t be there to comfort her grieving mother – or to receive comfort herself. Instead, she must deal with her grief alone in a strange, soulless hotel room.
“I don’t care about 14 days in the hotel. I really wouldn’t,” she said, breaking down crying, “but I have no one, and I know my mother is home and all I can do is call her.
“Sometimes , you just want to sit in silence, but if you were with them that silence with someone can be precious because that person is there and you can see their face and you can feel their pain – but I didn’t not even that. “
Now she faces the agonizing decision of trying to get her partner and their children to come to Perth for a funeral and undergo quarantine on their own.
She doesn’t know what to do. Still, she’s grateful she did it to say goodbye to her father.
Manuel Nunes died more than half a century after arriving in Australia from his native Portugal, in search of a better life. He worked as a carpenter, traveling the country and helping to build towns in some of Australia’s most remote areas. He got married and fathered a son, then a daughter, who was there, the best she could be, to say goodbye.
“I think he waited for me,” she said.