‘We were crying’: Australians board relief flight from Bali but some vow to return

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Singapore: For Rebecca Meckelburg and her family the sense of relief was overwhelming.

Hours after Australia launched its rescue mission from Taliban-controlled Kabul, the Australian academic, her husband Harimurti and their 11-year-old son Kayon were among 199 passengers to board another noteworthy, albeit less dramatic, flight: this one from Bali.

Passengers arrive at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali.Credit:Amilia Rosa

Organised by the Australian government, the Qantas service on Wednesday was the first commercial repatriation flight for Australians who had found it difficult to return home from virus-hit Indonesia. On the way over it transported medical equipment donated by the government. It was collected by Bali Deputy Governor Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati, known as Cok Ace.

“We’ve just been on tenterhooks with all the [pre-departure COVID-19] tests and we also had the additional stress of going from Java to Bali because they changed the rules on kids flying the day before,” said Meckelburg, who was based in Salatiga in Central Java but needed to return to Australia for treatment for tuberculosis.

“But we just lobbied and lobbied and we got through. We were crying this morning when we got our antigen test results.”

For those trying to return to Australia, the halving of the international arrival cap and slashing of flights from Jakarta and Denpasar has been compounded by regional hub Singapore in July blocking transit from Indonesia, which has recorded more than 1000 COVID-19 deaths daily for more than a month.

Australian academic Rebecca Meckelburg (right) with her husband Harimurti and their son Kayon in Bali on Wednesday.

With tickets being cancelled and prices soaring for the limited seats available on Garuda’s remaining weekly flight from Jakarta to Sydney, the government arranged for the Qantas pick-up from Ngurah Rai International Airport.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said last month that 780 Australians had registered a desire to leave Indonesia, with about 350 identified as vulnerable. It means only a quarter of those who wanted a seat have got one.

Those who managed to secure a place will serve their two weeks in quarantine at the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs facility.

Ian Young (left) is headed back home to Melbourne.Credit:Amilia Rosa

Some of those coming from Bali said they would return to the island.

Ian Young of Melbourne said he was not worried at all about the virus and was returning to Australia to see his family. “Then I’ll come back to Bali. I’ll swim back if I have to,” he said.

That sentiment was shared by Kathryn Rollins, who has been based in Bali for the past nine months but was headed home to Perth.

Kathryn Rollins of Perth hopes to return to Bali.Credit:Amilia Rosa

“I just want to be free to travel and to come back because I love Bali and Indonesia. I look forward to coming back when I can,” she said.

Another passenger who gave his name only as Peter said he was happy living in Nusa Dua in southern Bali but needed to have an operation in Australia.

“I’m not in a hurry to go back to Australia but I have to [return] for this particular thing,” he said.

“As soon as I’m fit and well again I shall apply to return.”

Bali itself is in the midst of its most serious outbreak, with 988 new cases and 48 deaths recorded in the province on Tuesday.

Six foreigners were among the 2805 who died of COVID on the island.

However, hospitals have not been as overstretched as at the height of the crisis on Indonesia’s main island of Java, which has seen the bulk of the country’s nearly 4 million total infections and 120,000 deaths.

With its entire adult population having had at least one shot of the vaccine and 48 per cent having had two doses, according to government figures, Bali is also much further down the path towards recovery than the rest of the country.

The world’s fourth-largest country has set out to immunise at least 181 million of its population of 270 million but while it has administered more than 83 million shots in a program that is gathering pace, only 10 per cent of people so far are fully vaccinated.

DFAT was contacted for comment on whether there were any more repatriation flights planned from Indonesia.

A spokesman said last month the government had facilitated 153 flights during the pandemic helping more than 22,900 Australians return from around the world.

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