In the past 12 months Erinn Swan hasn’t hugged anyone except her husband and kids. This is her story of overseas lockdown and the moment her daughter got COVID.
In the past 12 months Erinn Swan hasn’t hugged anyone except her husband and kids. This is her story of overseas lockdown and the moment her daughter got COVID.

Life inside world’s toughest lockdown

Brisbane-born Erinn Swan, 36, her husband John Naughton, 38, and their daughters Eala, 4, and Jeanie, 2, have just arrived back in Brisbane and are in hotel quarantine.

They flew from Dublin, Ireland, where they spent the past 12 months riding out the pandemic.

Ireland's high case numbers caused the government to lock down the country for the better part of a year.

Twelve months on, Erinn, the daughter of former federal treasurer Wayne Swan, writes of what it's been like in one of the world's toughest and longest lockdowns and what it feels like to be home.

Erinn Swan, 36, her husband John Naughton and their young daughters Eala, 4 and Jeanie, 2 in hotel quarantine in Brisbane.
Erinn Swan, 36, her husband John Naughton and their young daughters Eala, 4 and Jeanie, 2 in hotel quarantine in Brisbane.

We just landed in hotel quarantine in Brisbane.

Like thousands of Australians around the world, coming home wasn't an option for us a year ago when the Prime Minister announced we needed to hightail it before the borders closed.

We had the security of an income in the US and the world was about to find out what global pandemics do to economies. We couldn't risk it.

New York City was scary when the pandemic hit.

We had two young children and we were staring down the barrel of months stuck inside a Brooklyn apartment.

So we fled to rural Ireland where John's company (a tech start up) had an office and to be near his family. Surely that was a safe place to ride out a pandemic? It wasn't though.

I'm looking out at sunny Brisbane right now and things are looking up. But it also has me reflecting on our time in Ireland, living under the longest and harshest restrictions in Europe. A year of restrictions that culminated in the moment I received a text message informing me that my four-year-old daughter had tested positive for COVID. She's fine. Like most kids, she had a mild dose.

Eala, 4 and Jeanie, 2 in Ireland. Eala was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Eala, 4 and Jeanie, 2 in Ireland. Eala was diagnosed with COVID-19.

What was frustrating about a positive test in our family was that we were so dedicated to our isolation.

Our time in Ireland was deeply lonely. We ventured beyond our driveway only for essentials we couldn't get delivered or to walk the path beside the canal near our house. We obeyed the rules.

Yet, those insidious spiky circles made their way into our home. Past the double masks, past the half-empty bottles of sanitiser strewn around our car, past the distance we put between ourselves and others so that the very thing we had been craving - other people, connection - was a reality of the past.

Ireland was a lonely place.

It is the length and breadth of what people have had to endure that had the country lose its stoic connection with hope, faith, and good humour in the face of hardship.

When we received that text message with a positive result in March, Ireland had been closed for five and a half months. For us in County Offaly in the country's Midlands, in 2020 we had just two months not in lockdown - glorious, sunny July and September - although some restrictions still remained in place.

Eala, 4 and Jeanie, 2 enjoying their time in Ireland.
Eala, 4 and Jeanie, 2 enjoying their time in Ireland.

Unlike Australia though, Ireland was not protected from the rest of the world. The pubs stayed shut for a full year, but the borders remained open. And the COVID kept on flowing.

Over Christmas, 54,000 people from the UK streamed into Ireland and sprayed the UK variant from Dublin to Cork. The government watched it happen.

As an Australian, this is mind boggling. Why didn't they close the borders? That Christmas deluge caused the numbers in Ireland to surge to the highest in Europe.

Five months on there are signs the infection rates may be slowing, but they are still about 400 to 500 cases a day in a country with a population just shy of Queensland's.

The case numbers completely eroded people's faith in the rules.

Almost a full year of not being able to see grandkids, visit friends, even go to church in the most devout of Catholic nations. And to look around and find it's not working?

The epic rain-and-wind winter compounded the situation so cruelly. My kids were bouncing off the walls.

Public health messaging in Ireland.
Public health messaging in Ireland.

Every day government advertising on the radio begged people to "hold firm", "we're in this together", "stay the course", "the worst can be behind us". Finally, hotel quarantine was introduced for some incoming passengers.

If I'm to sum up the experience I'd say it's been endless.

We isolated ourselves on purpose and then it just Kept. On. Going. Like my life was buffering on repeat. I know my former reality was a privilege.

In 12 months I haven't hugged anyone except John and the kids.

I've eaten at just one restaurant. I haven't visited friends or gone to the movies, the theatre, a pub or to see music.

In the end, when COVID breached the walls of our house, we were lucky. My daughter had mild symptoms. After a full year of PPE, when it showed up, COVID decided to leave the rest of us alone.

Erinn Swan, 36, and daughters Eala, 4 and Jeanie, 2 going for walks in Ireland.
Erinn Swan, 36, and daughters Eala, 4 and Jeanie, 2 going for walks in Ireland.

In the weeks after the positive result, my husband, myself, and two-year-old daughter all continued to test negative. I guess we can add "how could a small child possibly not pass COVID onto her close-quartered family" to the list of things we don't know about this virus.

Looking out at a relatively normal weekday in Brisbane City, with busy traffic sounds and people walking side-by-side, we feel privileged to be home.

We know how lucky we are to have had the means to be able to come home with thousands of Australians still stranded abroad, particularly those in India who have no possibility of making it back any time soon.

Erinn Swan and her father, former treasurer Wayne Swan, on her wedding day.
Erinn Swan and her father, former treasurer Wayne Swan, on her wedding day.

For now there are warm Brisbane nights with family to look forward to, and we are less than two weeks out from normal.

 

Originally published as Life inside world's toughest lockdown: Brisbane mum's COVID nightmare



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