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Several years ago, when the world was more sane, my husband and I decided to move away from Australia. We had noticed the increase in restrictions, regulations and legislation in every aspect of our lives. To begin with, it was small things, but we saw the trajectory for what it was, a slow march towards an out of control nanny state with ridiculous rules for everything under the sun. We did some research and found that New Zealand was reported to be the most free country based on a number of factors, so we sold our house, packed our bags and flew to Christchurch in December 2019 with our 1yo daughter. We never anticipated what was coming.

On arrival, we immediately began house hunting and found a charming renovators delight with plenty of land in a wonderful area for children. We purchased the house and moved in March 2020. I also found out that after 3 previous miscarriages (due to endometriosis), I was 3 months pregnant. Our shipping container arrived the day before the nationwide lockdown, at 4:30pm. The truck driver told us it was the last truck to run, and we were extremely fortunate. We spent the lockdown unpacking and setting up our new home and exploring the forests in the area.

The plan was, that my family would follow within the first year and in the meantime they would visit regularly to spend time with us and help out while we renovated our home. We never dreamed that it would be over a year before I could hug them again.

The borders closed. I gave birth in the early hours of 20th September 2020 with my husband present, while our neighbour watched our sleeping daughter. I introduced our new baby to my family via video call. Compared to all the mothers who gave birth during the lockdowns, I was lucky. I have heard stories of mothers who were not allowed a support person, and mothers who had their babies removed at birth until the result of a PCR test was received — done in the name of “health”.

During that year my husband worked hard setting up and operating a new business. We both worked hard renovating and looking after two young children. We persevered with the faith that it wouldn’t last forever. The vaccines became available, and we rejoiced. We finally had the silver bullet to end all the madness!

We watched and waited as many brave souls lined up for the new MRNA technology that was going to save us all. We became sceptical as the narrative changed from stopping infection and transmission to just reducing severity. We watched as the waves still hit countries such as Israel, despite their high vaccine uptake. We became determined not to comply when governments began introducing mandates, targets and restrictions to “encourage” us, despite earlier promising that they would not. I have not yet found a politician who does not lie, so we were not about to believe them now.

In December 2021, our nephew and his wife moved out of Christchurch and our wonderful neighbours left for Mexico. We were alone. We were worn out, burnt out and not getting anywhere fast. We decided to finish our renovations as quickly as possible and sell our home to escape to somewhere free. My mental health had taken a beating and I needed a break.

After spending hours on the phone to Air NZ and the Australian federal, state and health departments, I decided to catch the last “red flight” (a red flight is the only international flight an unvaccinated person can use) out of New Zealand and return to Australia. That way, my husband could finish up the renovations without two little kids running around and getting into everything. I figured I could have a break, visit my family and friends, get surgery I needed for my condition and then we would reunite somewhere free.

The entire process — from booking flights, getting tests and results, to checking in — was a complete nightmare designed to instil fear, anxiety and panic. Every time I was told something over the phone, it would be different in the real world situation. I booked flights to Sydney and they said I could fly in unvaccinated and quarantine, but, when the confirmation arrived, it said I must be vaccinated to fly. I booked a PCR test and they said I’d have the results in time, and when I arrived they said I may not (after payment of course). When I booked flights to Brisbane they said I would be on a red flight and quarantine in Brisbane, but when I arrived at the airport they said I needed to be vaccinated to fly or on a special “list”. When I asked if I could use RAT instead on PCR in quarantine they said yes, but when I was tested they said I couldn’t (despite my mother flying from Adelaide to provide the RAT’s).

At one point I called the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs Border Force Covid line for advice. The woman was friendly but told me they could no longer provide advice as the rules changed daily and were different from state to state, airline to airline and airport to airport. Her only advice was to call each one separately to ensure I had all the requirements for each part of the journey. Imagine that, a government with so many rules they don’t even know what they are any more!

On 30th J!nuary at 11am I boarded a flight from Christchurch to Brisbane, via Auckland. I lined up with all the other passengers, and I sat on the crowded planes next to vaccinated passengers. The domestic flight did not serve food because of the “covid” risk, but the international flight did. I navigated through the entire process with my two small children. The bus between the Auckland domestic and international terminals was not running due to the “covid risk” and the walk took so long we were last on the plane.

Some kind souls helped me at times. One lady held my baby while I got my tickets out, watched my bags while I took my daughter to the toilet and got all my things to my seat. Another held my bags while waiting in the line for customs. Once we got through customs I was taken apart from all the others who continued out into the community. I was processed in a room where suddenly I had to remain 1.5m from everyone. I kept my luggage away from everyone, and everything I touched was promptly sanitized.

Somehow my mother managed to be in the unvaccinated arrivals area. A police protection officer gave me the option for my kids to go with her and not be quarantined. I had to make the decision immediately. I sent them to my mother, across the lobby of an unknown building and under a partition gate. Prior to that day I had NEVER spent a night away from my either of my children. I chose to do this as it is WRONG to lock children in a room for 14 days with no fresh air and no sun. It is wrong to PCR test healthy children who are not at risk from this virus. The children are our future and I DO NOT want them thinking this is normal or okay. I was then processed, put on a bus, one at a time and socially distanced and taken to Novotel at the Brisbane airport.

We were greeted by many federal, armed police officers and told that we were to go to our rooms and not leave for fourteen days. Our food would be delivered outside our rooms and we would be alerted with a knock. We must wait one minute, then open the door whilst wearing a mask. They said if we opened our doors for any other reason it would immediately be known due to surveillance cameras. They said “there are cameras everywhere, watching all the time”, “if you open a door alarms will go off and all hell will break loose”. When the nurses tested us we were to put on a mask, open the door, stand with our backs against the door and lower our mask when the nurse told us to. We were sick until proven healthy and treated like criminals.

I lodged an application for exemption to home quarantine on 30th January. The exemption confirmation email said I would need to provide my Day 1 test results in order for it to be processed. My Day 1 test was completed on the next day. I called six times over the next three days and was told things such as: we’ll follow up those results, someone will call you back, we’ll email them tomorrow morning. I received an email from the exemption office to tell me that if I did not provide the test results within three days, my application would be cancelled. On the 3rd a letter was delivered saying that the Queensland government was dedicated to vaccination and reuniting families and I would be transferred to a quarantine facility in Wellcamp, west of Brisbane. I was to be prepared to board a bus on Saturday 5th at 10am. The facility was a 2 hour bus ride from Brisbane, with only a small rural Hospital in the vicinity. At 4pm on Thursday 3rd (Day 4) my PCR results were slipped under my door and I completed my exemption application. The next day I received a call from a woman in the exemption office. She was not impressed with my nagging and emails and made that very obvious. She asked if my children would be joining me in quarantine and I told her that I would love to have them providing they would not be tested. She told me they wouldn’t and I asked politely if I could get that in writing as every other time I have been given information it has been incorrect. She became frustrated with me and her voice got very cold, low and harsh she said “YOU are not in a position to make stipulations”. That is when I began to get very anxious and feel legitimately frightened. I was at the mercy of a government and they were making it clear they had the power and I was helpless. My crime was being unvaccinated.

Thanks to my family advocating for me and a lovely Liaison officer, my exemption was approved and I left the Novotel around 5 pm on Friday 4th for home quarantine. I had to pay an additional $240 for a chauffeured vehicle due to the “risk”. A friend of my Father was kind enough to offer me a unit inland from the Gold Coast with fresh air and sunshine. The gardens were magnificent and it was such a relief to breathe clean air, feel the sun on my face and not feel like a prisoner.

In the Novotel,d I was in a hotel room with black mould on the air conditioner. Whenever I turned it on my eyes would itch and I would sneeze uncontrollably, so I stopped turning it on. I spent three days without air-conditioning or fresh air during a heatwave. The next room I moved into had a leaking window which was dripping onto a power point and phone line. I fixed that with duct tape and towels.

On the day I left Christchurch had 2 active covid cases in the community and Canterbury (comparable to a state) had 5 active cases. Auckland had 129 and Queensland had 63,119. My unvaccinated brother was able to fly from South Australia (which had 20,569 active cases on the day) to the Gold Coast with no pre departure test, no restrictions and no quarantine. I had to do a pre departure test within 72 hours of a Sunday morning flight and then quarantine on arrival for 14 days with a Day 1, Day 5 and Day 12 test. Just because there are rules, does not make them right. Just following the rules does not make you right and just doing your job does not make this right.

I am generally an organised, grounded, calm person. This whole experience has left me feeling chaotic, helpless, anxious and paranoid. However I am not scared of catching covid. I am scared of what the government will do to me if I test positive. I am scared of how that will impact my life. How I will be able to organise government approved accommodation, testing and transport? How much more of my savings will be wasted on theatre? I’m scared of what they will decide for my children. I have seen statistics from around the world where the pandemic has had a detrimental affect on people’s mental health. Antidepressant use is up all over the western world. I do not need tablets, tests, experimental vaccines, restrictions, mandates or quarantine facilities to feel better. I need freedom. I need control over my own life and body. I need fresh air and sunshine. I don’t need the government to tell me what’s good for me or keep me safe. We all know they lie, they mismanage, they overspend and underdeliver.

What’s different now?

I’m not telling this story because I want sympathy, I am personally responsible for every choice I made and my choices have consequences just like anyone else. I’m telling this story because I want people to think about the rules, laws and bureaucratic red tape we deal with EVERY day. Australia has become stifling to creativity. Insurance, lawyers, pharmaceutical companies and bureaucrats have too much control, and our institutions are corrupt. This country could be amazing, but freedom is imperative if we are to thrive.

Rachelle, Christchurch, NZ