Thousands spend Christmas in isolation

Tiffanie Turnbull |

David Ryan says of the future that he chooses to assume something good will happen.
David Ryan says of the future that he chooses to assume something good will happen.

Three generations of family. Stifling Queensland heat. Chilled prawns on the table. Far too much food. Hugs, laughter and festive cheer.

That’s what Sydney principal Paulina Skerman’s Christmas usually looks like.

But this year while her family gathers hundreds of kilometres away, Paulina’s Christmas lunch will be left on the floor outside the door of her bedroom, where she is locked away and alone after testing positive for COVID-19.

The PCR test was supposed to be her ticket into Queensland. The moment it returned a positive result, her stomach dropped.

“It’s crushing,” she tells AAP.

“It’s just one more thing, you know?

“I’ve missed both my children’s birthdays. I’ve missed my oldest son’s graduation. I’ve missed my father in law’s funeral.”

After “unrelenting” pandemic chaos, it was going to be her first actual holiday in two years.

It was also going to be the first time she saw her youngest son in a year.

“He went ahead of us and set up the unit and put the Christmas tree up and made the beds,” she said.

“He’s incredibly disappointed too.”

She won’t even be able to see her husband, who has tested negative so far, on Christmas Day. If she’s lucky, she’ll get a visit from the dog.

“That’s been the worst part, not being able to see him.

“I can’t wait to a) walk the dog and b) hug my husband.”

While mentally she’s had better days, Paulina counts herself lucky to be triple-vaccinated and asymptomatic.

With more than 30,000 people testing positive for the virus just in NSW in the past 10 days, Paulina knows it’ll be a pretty miserable, quiet Christmas for many.

“I could cry about it … but you do have to focus on the positive things.

“At least now I’m really, really immune,” she jokes.

The family will video call each other. “We might even eat together, who knows?”.

Things could be far worse. Just ask David Ryan.

The 27-year-old, who lives and works in Sydney, was tossing up cancelling his trip to Queensland to visit his family, with the spiralling outbreak in NSW making him nervous he’d expose them.

But the decision was made for him when he fell sick last week.

Living in Sydney’s inner west in a share house with six others as he waited for his COVID-19 test result was a nightmare for everyone.

“My housemates were terrified to say the least,” he tells AAP.

“People were just staying in their rooms, locking their doors, spraying a lot of Glen20 around the house.

“To get water I’d go outside to the garden hose because I didn’t want to use the kitchen sink.

“I had to kind of strategically limit my trips to the bathroom and things like that.”

It was two days before his positive result was returned and NSW Health moved him into a quarantine hotel.

By then he was “really crook”.

“I couldn’t get out of bed,” he said.

“I’m a double vaccinated and I’m young and reasonably fit but despite all that, it was up there with the worst illnesses I’ve had.

“And I’ve had pneumonia.”

Miraculously, his housemates have since returned several negative tests.

“That’s a great relief. I was really worried about them. I didn’t want them to have their Christmases stymied.”

David’s Christmas, on the other hand, is ruined.

It’s usually a low-key affair, with his family gathering at his parent’s home for a Christmas feast before they head to church.

But the closest thing he’ll get to a family meal this year is his sister ordering food to be delivered to his quarantine hotel.

He, like Paulina, is determined to maintain a positive perspective.

“It’ll be an unusual Christmas, let’s just put it that way,” he says.

“But it’s probably the only one I’ll ever spend alone, so I’m lucky.”

He’s recovered from the worst of his illness now and is thankful he’s facing the pandemic from the relative safety of Australia.

“I have relatives overseas in countries that would love to be vaccinated … even the fact that we have things like hotel quarantine I’m grateful for.

“Of all the outcomes, this is the best of the worst, right?

Despite ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ being far from that for Paulina and David, both retain optimism next year will be better.

“You can choose to assume the worst of the unknown or you can assume something good will happen. I like to choose the positive option,” David says.

“I’m hopeful next year will be different and I’m optimistic that this has somehow strengthened us in ways that we still don’t know,” Paulina says.