Australian Couple Stranded On Cruise Ship Hope To Return Tonight After 'Emotional Hell'
After being stranded at sea for more than two weeks and turned away from five different ports, Sakib and Neelo Awan are hoping they'll finally be able to return to Sydney tonight.
The couple, on board the cruise ship Norwegian Jewel, has been docked in Honolulu, Hawaii, for several days and anxiously awaiting news of when they can return.
They're scheduled to fly into Sydney on Wednesday night, but say they feel they've been kept "in the dark" for a large part of their trip.
Before boarding, the couple had been waiting on the tarmac for almost two hours for the Australian government to give Qantas permission to fly.
The couple also had a flight scheduled for Tuesday morning, but it was cancelled at the last minute due to unknown reasons.
"I hardly slept for two hours and we got up early, had all our bags packed and then they told us the flight was cancelled," Neelo Awan told 10 daily.
"The longer they keep us away from our homes and towns, everything is shutting down, borders are closing," she said.
However, they said the "exemplary staff" on the ship were always with a smile and showed them incredible hospitality.
10 daily obtained a document sent by DFAT to passengers on the Norwegian Jewel, which urged Australians to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival.
"Given the recent issues for cruise ships having docked in Australia, out of an abudance of caution, the Australian government is asking you to take quarantine measures in Sydney when you arrive. These arrangements will be organised for you by Australian authorities," the document said.
"We stand ready to help, including to ensure you receive assistance once you arrive in Sydney, in particular any medical or health support that is required."
After the World Health Organisation warned that the United States could be the new epicentre of the pandemic, the couple said they feel safer on the ship.
"The United States is not a good place to be right now. I'm worried about stepping off the ship. As soon we step off the ship, it’s virus-infected."
Hawaii has 90 confirmed coronavirus cases with one death, while in areas of mainland America, cases are growing exponentially.
The couple boarded the ship from Sydney on February 28, when coronavirus cases outside China were relatively few. But as they headed towards Fiji, the situation started to escalate.
After briefly disembarking in Suva, thousands of passengers have been stuck on board since March 11, with several countries refusing them entry.
"We find ourselves in a totally different world today. When we left, Italy was nowhere near where China was at that point. The ship was not going in any direction where there was coronavirus," Sakib Awan said.
"I bought a ticket to a cruise and got a ticket to a rollercoaster," Neelo Awan added.
The NSW government is currently under fire for allowing 2,700 passengers from the Ruby Princess cruise ship to disembark into Sydney last Thursday.
A 77-year-old woman on the ship became the state's seventh person to die of the disease on Tuesday and more than 130 Ruby Princess passengers have now tested positive for COVID-19.
A barrage of criticism has been levelled at the state and the federal government after passengers were allowed to disembark just four days after Prime Minister Scott Morrison banned cruise ships from foreign ports arriving at Australian ports.
"They went into taxis and public transport, they interacted with friends and neighbours, they went to shops, they were allowed to travel across the country," Home Affairs Shadow Minister Kristina Keneally said.
"The border security measures that the Commonwealth put in place failed the Australian people. And it does need to be asked, what is the advice the Australian Border Force is getting from the Commonwealth?".
Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram said on Wednesday his officers were not medically trained to test passengers, and that the health department had said the passengers were healthy enough to enter.
"What broke down in this case was, health officers, trained doctors or nurses didn't get on board the vessel to swab passengers and take their swabs for results," Outram said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told 10 daily they were aware of over 30 affected cruise ships.
The Awan family say they have not been told of any passengers with symptoms of COVID-19 on the cruise ship.
While their flight has already been scheduled, they say they'd be absolutely devastated if they were not allowed to enter Australia on Wednesday night.
The pair have three daughters and four grandkids who are desperately awaiting their arrival.
" When we arrived in Honolulu we were so excited because we saw rainbows when we arrived," Neelo Awan said.
"We thought Honolulu was welcoming us, but I think it likes us too much that it’s keeping us here."
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