BORDER BUNGLE: Local man Vernon Knight describes his unpleasant experience trying to navigate entry into South Australia for two operations, under current border restrictions.

By Vernon Knight*

WHILE we continue to chart the fall-out from COVID 19 in terms of the economy and its physical health implications, my own experiences tell me that we are yet to scratch the surface of the pandemic’s social and emotional damage and the agility of some administrations to manage the situation.

I recently had the need for surgery that could not be undertaken in Mildura and I had to navigate entry into South Australia for two operations.

The first occurred early in the piece and my travel was reasonably uneventful. The second was a whole different story!

The second procedure was a follow-up to the initial surgery and was supposed to take place four weeks later. That follow-up took two months of negotiation.

Eventually obtaining the necessary approvals, my wife Chris and I drove to the border crossing at Yamba where we were instructed to remain in our vehicle until the paperwork we presented would need to be verified. We then sat in our car, in the sun, for the next
three hours.

When we asked to use the toilet, we were told that the border crossing had no public toilets and any attempt to leave our car would see us turned around and sent back to Victoria.

After three hours we were told that entry had been approved but we would now need to wait for the arrival of a police patrol car which would escort our vehicle to Adelaide – me to hospital and Chris to her designated accommodation.

When deposited at her accommodation (after eight hours without any comfort stop) Chris was informed that she must not leave her room and that she could not return to Victoria until there was another police patrol car to escort her travel.

Ironically, she was to receive a phone call days later from an officer stating that he was outside her room and wanting to know why she was not answering the knocks on her door.
Chris was at that time back in Mildura having been escorted back to the border by South Australia Police.

After surgery, it was my turn to navigate a return home. Prior to the surgery, I had applied for Patient Assisted Transport based on my surgeon’s letter that any car travel would be ‘optimistic’ given the nature of the operation.

While Ambulance Victoria were very helpful prior to the operation, I was informed just prior to discharge that I was not eligible for Patient Travel Assistance, an issue that I will pursue in due course.

I was also informed that return by ambulance or similar would also need police approval as the vehicle would need to be escorted to the border.

Realising that the hospital was near Parafield Airport, I managed to arrange a private charter flight with a company approved for entry into South Australia.

My hospital put these arrangements to SA Health at which point I was asked how I would get to the airport.

As a taxi was my only option, the travel arrangements were not approved on the basis that I could not use public transport. How I did manage to get home is another story but true to form, South Australia Police visited my hospital wanting to know where I was.

(How I was supposed to do a runner on one leg really does beg the question.)

Although I could say much more, I want at this point to stress that while I am totally behind measures to contain this horrendous virus, it is time we stopped turning ourselves into a population of cheats and lepers.

The absolutely last thing one needs in times of pain and challenge, are systems that often have little regard for personal wellbeing.

We have seen it in the rejection of compassionate appeals for travel interstate to visit dying family members. We also have numerous restrictions that make little or no sense and I fear we have often managed to punish some of the most vulnerable members of society.

We need to tackle challenges, irrespective of their magnitude with head, and heart.

I applaud Australia’s success in managing the Coronavirus.

But the challenges of aftercare and rehabilitation must not be ignored.

It is not only the virus that we have suffered.

* Vernon Knight is a volunteer worker in aged care and co-ordinator of Mallee Living Histories.