Terminally ill Australian man John Jobber is running out of time to make it back from Ireland and fulfil his wish of dying back home in Tasmania.
After nearly a year of fighting to get Jobber home, his daughter Samantha John finally secured plane tickets to Melbourne for next week, but now she fears Melbourne’s snap lockdown means he will never see home again.
“I really do understand there is pandemic and it’s a matter of balancing the risk, but, on the other hand, it’s my dad,” Samantha said.
Guardian Australia reported in January that Jobber had been trapped overseas since February last year. He intended to take a short trip to say goodbye to family and stay with his other daughter, Michele Jobber, in Ireland before entering palliative care back home. But, when the pandemic was declared, he became trapped.
Samantha said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade got back in touch after the Guardian article was published and tried to arrange repatriation flights.
But, due to how significantly Jobber has declined while trapped overseas, he will require hospitalisation upon return, something Dfat told Samantha would not be possible at the Howard Springs facility in Darwin where repatriation flights land.
Qatar Airways approached the family and, after eventually getting approval for Jobber to quarantine at the Alfred hospital in Samantha’s home town of Melbourne on Thursday, the sisters were finally able to book their father a ticket home.
The flight was set to land in the afternoon of Wednesday 17 February but, on Friday, the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, announced that the state would go into lockdown and not accept any more international flights for five days.
Jobber’s flight is included in this bracket by just five hours.
“It’s just devastating,” Samantha said. “The last 24 hours now has been a bit disastrous after coming off such a high, and being so happy that we actually had some resolution.”
While Jobber was relatively lucid when he left Australia, the year spent trapped in an unfamiliar country, in and out of lockdowns, has taken a significant toll.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Samantha said. “It feels like I’ve lost him … He was not just my dad, he was a friend to me. It’s not just the 12,000 miles, it’s the loss of a mind half a world away.
“He spends 16 hours a day asleep and, from what I hear, spends the rest of the time talking to people that aren’t there.
“He may not last that long physically, and certainly his mental health is deteriorating rapidly. I don’t think we’ll ever get him back but I think the only way to halt that decline from going any further is for him to be in familiar surroundings.”
Michele told the Guardian in January that she had already burnt through her savings caring for her father and she was now even closer to losing her home, potentially leaving Jobber homeless in the last months of his life.
Only the flights already in the air will be allowed to land in Melbourne during the lockdown, Andrews confirmed on Saturday morning.
“The prime minister has agreed to suspend flights,” he said. “There are no further fights flights beyond those five [already in transit] until next Thursday.”
Samantha said her only hope now is Qatar delaying the flight, or the Victoria and federal governments allowing it to go ahead on compassionate grounds.
A Victorian government spokeswoman said although they felt for Jobber, it was too risky to allow international travellers to arrive in Melbourne.
“We know this must be an extremely difficult time for Mr Jobber and his family,” she said. “We understand how hard it must be for people who want to see their loved ones, and people who are overseas who want to come home, to have that delayed, but our priority right now has to be keeping people safe and limiting the spread of the virus.
“This is a changing, hyper-infectious virus, which means our quarantine program needs to be constantly reviewed on the basis of expert advice.”
Jobber still has a ticket to fly home in March with Emirates, but Samantha said it was becoming increasingly clear that he might not make it until then. She also does not know if Michele would be able to accompany him on this flight as he cannot self-medicate, and going without his pills for nearly 24 hours could be fatal.
Even if Jobber is allowed to land and quarantine in Melbourne next week, the outbreak will potentially create difficulties getting Jobber to his home in Tasmania if border restrictions between the two states do not end quickly.
“My dad lives in a little town, he doesn’t live in Hobart,” Samantha said. “We’re going to a house that hasn’t been opened up for 12 months now, covered in dust with an empty fridge, and we might have to isolate there.”
Guardian Australia has previously requested updates on Jobber’s situation from Dfat. A spokesperson said the department was “providing consular assistance to an Australian in Ireland” but owing to “privacy obligations” could not comment further.
Thousands of Australians are still trapped overseas, with the UK and other highly contagious varients limiting the number of people federal and states governments are willing to accept into hotel quarantine at a time.
Victoria’s cap was set to lift from 1,210 to 1,310 overseas travellers a week when recent troubles with hotel quarantine began.
Andrews said on Friday there needed to be a “cold, hard discussion” about reducing the number of travellers returning to Australia from overseas and consideration given to limiting re-entries to those with compassionate reason only until the vaccine rollout is well underway.
“This thing is not the 2020 virus,” Andrews said. “It is very different. It is much faster. It spreads much more easily.
“We, all of us, have to have a conversation about what’s safe, what’s proportionate, what’s reasonable.”
Guardian Australia has contacted Qatar Airways but did not receive a response.