Aussie family’s horror six-week COVID-19 battle
EMIRATES flight EK430 from London, via Dubai, arrived as scheduled into Brisbane on March 21. Sitting in seat 82K was 20-year old Sophie Bidwell.
The COVID-19 crisis had cut short her university exchange to the University of Surrey, where she had been studying communications.
Back home, her parents Andrea and Paul Bidwell had been living their worst nightmare - the possibility that Sophie would be stuck in England while a devastating pandemic enveloped the world.
The day before Sophie arrived home, Prime Minister Scott Morrison closed Australia's borders to all foreigners.
The following day, Emirates announced it was cancelling flights to Australia from
"I was very stressed because I didn't know if we could get her back on a plane to start with,'' Andrea, 55, said.
"We were very grateful to have her back."
Sitting on her veranda under quarantine, Andrea watches her daughter eat lunch.
"We are so lucky to have her home,'' she says.
But the arrival home of their precious daughter was just the start of the Bidwell family's coronavirus nightmare.
Sophie's older brother Felix, 24, insisted on collecting his sister from the airport to limit his parents' exposure to the deadly virus.
The siblings drove home from the airport wearing masks and gloves, with Sophie sitting as far from her brother as possible in the back passenger-side seat.
When they arrived at the Bulimba family home they'd lived in for 24 years, there were no hugs for the people she loves most. Sophie and her luggage were ushered into the main bedroom where she would spend the next five weeks.
For a worried and loving mother, it was the most frustrating time.
"It was like having a baby again but not being able to touch the baby,'' Andrea said.
Queensland Health told the family they were at greater risk from the virus because Paul Bidwell is 60 and Andrea had suffered influenza A last year.
The family had to take things day by day. "I just had to do all the work, get up, take a deep breath and do it all over again,'' Andrea said.
But then the bad news came. Ten days into Sophie's home quarantine (March 31) she tested positive for COVID-19.
All four Bidwells were locked down. Queensland Health told them they weren't allowed to leave the property for any reason for the next two weeks.
In the week leading up to her escape from England, Sophie had had a temperature, and aches and pains in her muscles and eyes. She wasn't tested on arrival at Brisbane Airport.
Her illness, her positive test and the three weeks of confinement to the bedroom were incredibly difficult for Sophie. She said she struggled not only physically - her symptoms included a scratchy throat, headaches, a blocked nose and cough - but mentally with the required quarantine.
Lying on her parents' bed on a hot day, sweating from the virus and the heat, she said she felt she couldn't take it any more.
"I felt like I was going to explode and I just had a mental breakdown,'' Sophie says.
Peering through the bedroom door, Andrea watched as Sophie screwed up her hands, ran into the walk-in wardrobe and lay in a ball on the floor with her hands over her ears.
Sophie says she whispered to her mum: "I can't take it anymore."
Concerned about her daughter, Andrea told their doctor Sophie was getting depressed and couldn't take the bedroom confinement any longer.
A second COVID-19 test was ordered. It was negative, allowing the family to breathe a sigh of relief.
But a call from the hospital plunged the family back into corona hell. Sophie was told the test was probably a "false negative" and she still had to wait to be symptom-free for three consecutive days.
"I kept waking up with like a blocked nose and they (Queensland Health) would be 'nup sorry', it was very frustrating and depressing,'' she says. And so the lockdown marathon continued.
Day in, day out Sophie had to rely on her mum for everything.
"Not even being able to walk around the house was depressing,'' she says, recalling the time.
Meals and snacks were dropped at the door. Sophie joined the family via Zoom for dinner each night.
After each meal the empty plates were returned outside the room and the sterilising started.
It was a time-consuming process. Every plate and utensil was disinfected. The trays they were carried on were washed twice. The floors outside the bedroom where the trays sat were washed. The sink was disinfected. Then everything was put into the dishwasher.
Andrea was understandably nervous.
"It was extremely stressful because we could get it,'' she says. "There's been a lot of disinfecting going on."
Getting essential supplies proved difficult initially. Calls to the local Woolworths to get on to a priority delivery list went unanswered. Luckily the family had other options. Joe Carbone runs the nearby Feast on Fruit in Morningside.
Although Joe didn't know the Bidwells, he rang and offered to buy additional groceries for the family. Friends dropped around prepared meals and essential supplies.
"I've had to ring people to ask for deliveries which isn't really in my nature. It's been so lovely of people to do that,'' Andrea said.
"I feel very humble and grateful."
Not knowing when they would all be released from their home prison created some friction, the family admits.
The key was Sophie being symptom-free for three consecutive days. Once that happened, then the rest of the family were told they would have another two weeks before being allowed out.
From his desk on the veranda, Paul says the situation has brought the family closer together. "Adult children don't usually get into the habit of spending 24 hours a day, week after week, with their parents," he jokes.
During the quarantine, the whole family was working from home while Sophie continued her UK studies via online learning.
"It's actually brought us closer together. That's been a good thing,'' he says.
After six weeks, on May 6, the family finally received the text from Queensland Health they'd all been waiting for.
"Congratulations! Your self-quarantine directive period has ended. Thank you for your compliance, you have helped save lives. If you are not experiencing symptoms, you are free to leave your home."
The following day, Paul sat drinking takeaway coffee in a park opposite his work, reflecting on the experience.
"Thank God for Andrea. She kept us all sane and made sure we survived,'' he says.
It's a sentiment Sophie endorses.
"Mum is an angel,'' she says.
Originally published as Brisbane family's horror six-week COVID-19 battle