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Getting very near the end
We arrived at Tullamarine at 8:30 Sunday night.
I’ll run through the bureaucratic aspects of re-entry a little later, partly because I know some of you will be going through the same thing soon and will appreciate the information, but I also want to write it all down to record the process so we can remember. Whatever else these times are, these last few years are moments of change, and we will look back on them one day as a time when the world slipped into being something else, something different to what we might’ve imagined.
None of this was really front-and-centre in our thinking over the last few days, I have to say: the process became mechanical.
Instead, we were preoccupied with saying goodbye to Noah, and adjusting, again, to being half a world away from him. The whole reason we undertook this little adventure in the first place was because, in the middle of last year, we had no idea when we might see him again, with borders closed and cities locked down, and we are so glad we did it, though now we are home again, it feels a little like being back at square one.
But it isn’t really.
To have been able to see where Noah lives, how he lives, and to realise how incredibly well he has risen to all the challenges involved in transporting himself to the other side of the world leaves us not only incredibly proud, but so much better informed than we were before we arrived there.
We felt like we got to know the city of Nice very well, and, for all its faults, it is reassuring to know his adopted city from the inside, and to have some points of reference. It is a great city in a fabulous region, and we were lucky to be there for as long as we were. And they are lucky to have him!
Can’t wait to be there again.
Anyway, we said goodbye to Noah on Friday night, and oh, my heart.
Let me tell you about the hoops we had to jump through to be allowed on a plane home.
Basically, there were three essential documents we needed to present: an Australian Travel Declaration (ATD); an International Covid-19 Vaccination Certificate (ICVC); and a negative RAT or PCR test.
None of them were particularly hard to get (though, I have a story about the ICVC), but again, it is a reminder, as I talked about in earlier posts, about the way something like Covid-19 draws us inexorably into an increasing web of bureaucratic and technological surveillance.
We need to be careful not to throw out perfectly sensible public health measures in the name of exaggerated fears for our “freedom”—creating a society that is safe for everyone during a pandemic is a much more significant act of freedom than screaming about your right not to be vaccinated (imho)—but we also need to ensure that such measures are limited to what is actually needed and not just used as an excuse for ever-more exclusions.
It’s a tough line to draw, no doubt about that.
The Australian Travel Declaration you fill out online and it is quite detailed, but the response is almost instantaneous. You can then add the response to a purpose-built app and show that at the airport.
The negative Covid test, as I say, could be a RAT or PCR, but it can’t be a home-test. You need some officially recognised document that says you’ve had it done and that you were negative. The RAT can’t be more than 24-hours old, but your PCR test is valid for 72-hours. Tanya and I opted for a PCR, which we got from a local Nice pharmacy, and they provided the official documentation.
The only one I had trouble getting was the International Covid-19 Vaccination Certificate.
In theory, it is easy to get, and Tanya had no problems. You go to your Medicare app, go to the vaccination section, then select the option that generates an ICVC based on that information. You only need to have had two jabs to get an ICVC, which was just as well, as we have to go through a whole other process now that we’re home to have our third jab, administered in France, recognised in Australia.
Note: your official proof of vaccination on your Medicare app/record is not enough. You need to generate an ICVC, which links your vaccination record with your passport, and you have to give permission for Medicare to share your information with DFAT.
The problem for me was that the name on my Medicare Card is Tim Dunlop, but on my passport, it is Timothy John Dunlop, and the electronic process read the items as a mismatch and so wouldn’t issue the Certificate.
So I had to ring the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) people and sort it out and, honestly, it took me an hour just to figure out which number to use to ring them. None of the listed numbers worked from France, and it was a complete fluke I found yet another number on another webpage that was hyperlinked and let me call for free via Skype.
The first night I rang, (Tuesday), I sat up till 2am France time trying to get it sorted, providing endless proofs of identity, and he assured me that he had changed things so that DFAT would now recognise my Medicare record. He told me it would take 24-hours to activate, but I could then go through the process on the app and get the Certificate.
I waited till midnight the next day, only to find—no surprise at all—that DFAT still would not recognise my Medicare information and therefore wouldn’t issue a certificate. Okay, I hadn’t waited the full 24-hours, but I was pretty sure that the problem wasn’t fixed and just wanted to speak to someone to sort it out.
I rang AIR again and went through another one-hour process of identification, was told it was fixed, only to find it wasn’t. So, I rang again, again, and went through another even more forensic process of identification, the intricacies of which I can barely explain—but for the record, take a photo of every document you have, including your birth certificate, so at least you can cite relevant numbers—and this time, after consultation with his supervisor, the guy was given permission to issue me with a pdf version of the ICVC. He told me they couldn’t just email it to me, but that he would email me a link to a secure website, including instructions on how to logon, which required having a Centrelink Customer Recognition Number (CRN), which I didn’t have, and so we went through the process to get that too.
Needless to say, I asked him to wait on the line until the email he promised arrived, until I clicked on the secure website where the document was stored, until I went through the login process, downloaded the document, and had it in my hot little hands, or at least, safely stored on my hard drive.
All in all, the process took about 4 hours over two days, or actually, nights, because of the time difference. And as it turned out, the first two people I dealt with, as lovely and polite as they were, didn’t accomplish anything other than to take up a lot of time. I really don’t understand what went wrong.
Regardless, all our ducks were now in a row.
We flew from Nice to London on BA and, then changed to Qantas, and flew from London to Darwin and then onto Melbourne. In both Nice and London, they checked all three documents mentioned above, but none of them were checked in either Darwin or Melbourne, so basically, the Australian Government has outsourced the whole process to the airlines overseas.
Remember those photos of an empty Melbourne airport when we left last year?
It wasn’t that different arriving home. I think there was one other flight that landed at about the same time as us, and both flights seemed about half full. Most of the shops were closed, though Duty Free was open.
As it happened, the easiest part of the whole process was going through Australian customs. We filled out the usual arrival card on the plane, used one of the scanners to register our arrival at the airport, went through the electronic gate, got our luggage (lot o’ luggage!), and then handed our arrival card to a security dude and left.
Deal done and home by 9:45pm, but too tired to stay up and watch the last eleven sets of the tennis.
We were required to conduct a Covid test within 24-hours of arrival (PCR or RAT, and this time a home test was acceptable) and isolate at home until we had the result. We RAT’d ourselves as soon as we got home with one of the RATs were bought from France. It was negative, so we are free to move around as we like, with the exception of a few designated high-risk places like aged care facilities and childcare centres.
So, almost a year since we first started plotting, and five-months since we arrived in Nice, mission accomplished.