Australians touch down at home as international borders, COVID quarantine rules ease | The Canberra Times


The eyes said it all and no mask could hide the emotion as a Canberra family welcomed home their loved daughter and sister, one of the first Australians to touch down on home soil as international travel restrictions relaxed on Monday. Tears welled above the masks as John and Colette Mackay hugged their daughter Claire Meeks, who was last in Canberra more than two years ago and then for only 36 hours for her grandmother’s funeral. Claire’s sister Jane Cassidy joined the family reunion at Gate B at the Canberra airport just after Qantas flight Q1437 touched down at 3.19pm, the first connecting flight into the national capital. Claire had earlier that morning arrived in Sydney on a flight from San Francisco, one of the first freedom flights to touch down as vaccinated Australians were allowed home without the need for quarantining. “Now, I’m home,” she said, with a laugh. Claire, 39, will be catching up with family and friends for two weeks, visiting from her adopted home in Sonoma, California, where she lives with her husband Trevor and is a development manager at an animal shelter. “We’re thrilled to see her,” Mr Mackay said, eyes red and emotions raw. “We’ve done the Skype-ing every week but there’s nothing like the real thing.” While her welcome home in Canberra was warm and loving, it was relatively understated, compared to her arrival in Sydney. Media was swarming the airport as Australians started to arrive back home from overseas on the first day of the lifted travel band, with the first flight landing just after 6am. “I walked out and there were at least 15 cameras and I walked out and just went, ‘Whoa’. Women were handing out flowers and Tim Tams,” Claire said. Claire said coming home any earlier to Australia had been virtually impossible before international travel bans were lifted because tickets for incoming flights were exorbitant and flights were few and far between. Overnight Sunday, she was on an almost-empty flight from San Francisco to Sydney, that cost around $2500 compared to previous flights, which reached $10,000. “I think there were five other people in the whole cabin,” she said. “So everyone just kind of stretched out and the hosties brought us extra pillows and blankets and left us alone, which was nice. READ MORE: “There was another couple on there who’d been trying to get back to Australia for a year and had had 10 flights cancelled, but they still have to get back to Perth, so I don’t know how they are going to do that. But at least they are a bit closer to home.” And there was no cheering or special announcement from the pilot when they landed in Australia. But there was a sense of relief. “It was United [Airlines], so maybe the Qantas flights had more fanfare,” Claire said, with a laugh. “I got to have a little stopover in Sydney and had a little ferry ride under the bridge which was fun. “There’s not many flights at the moment, there’s not many options. I had a good six hours.” Jane said it was “pretty surreal” to have her sister home. “We’re really looking forward to having a big family dinner tonight,” she said. Coming home has been not without a lot of jumping through hoops. Claire had to be tested for COVID before leaving the US and, like other arrivees, has to be tested two times again while in Australia, first within 24 hours and again within five or six days of her arrival. An adventurous spirit, who has travelled the world, Claire was looking forward to nothing more than spending time with her family and friends in her home town. “People keep asking me what my schedule is and this is it,” she said, looking at her mum and dad and sister. And that is more than enough. Our coverage of the health and safety aspects of this outbreak of COVID-19 in the ACT and the lockdown is free for anyone to access. However, we depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support. You can also sign up for our newsletters for regular updates. Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:


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