An Australian man whose mother died while he was in a hotel quarantine has gone on hunger strike to draw attention to the impossible situations facing people who seek exemptions from Covid restrictions on compassionate grounds.
James Turbitt, who lives in Belgium, made an emergency dash home last week after he learned his 62-year-old mother was in hospital in Perth, Western Australia.
But the only flight available was to Melbourne, on the other side of the country. So he asked authorities if he could break the mandatory 14-day quarantine in order to fly onwards to Perth to see her in hospital before she died.
He said he had already returned multiple negative tests and is double vaccinated but his request was denied.
“This is probably the most compelling reason for a compassionate exemption," Mr Turbitt told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“I would have done anything, anything, to spend even half an hour with my mum before she passed away. I’m heartbroken and I’m devastated. I just hope that it doesn’t happen to anyone again,” he said.
When it became clear his mother only had about 12 hours to live, a doctor at the hospital wrote a letter in support of Mr Turbitt’s appeal, but to no avail.
“This is one of the issues when you live overseas, you may not be able to get back for these sorts of things so that’s a risk that unfortunately some people take,” said Western Australian premier Premier Mark McGowan
He told ABC Perth: "We have been through this system for 18 months where we’ve had very strict arrangements in place and it’s kept us safe."
“Australia has had very strict systems – at times it’s resulted in a great deal of distress for people.”
Mr Turbitt is now fighting to make it back to Western Australia in time for his mother’s funeral and his using his hunger strike to draw attention to his case and those of others.
Last week, another Australian man, Mark Kilian, and his wife Anneli Gericke, were initially refused permission from Queensland Health to break their quarantine to travel to New South Wales to see Mr Killian’s father, who has terminal cancer, after they arrived from the US.
Mr Kilian has given a number of interviews challenging the decision, which he feared could prevent him from saying goodbye to his father.
Late on Wednesday, Queensland Health said an exemption had been granted, subject to New South Wales finalising arrangements for the couple’s transfer to Queensland.