Fourteen-year-old Jessica Xie-Moulton has returned to Western Australia after living inside the original epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic for the past six months.
For Jessica Xie-Moulton, a relaxing summer holiday to visit her relatives in China turned into a difficult six months, mostly spent in her grandparents' tiny two-bedroom apartment in Yichang city, about four hours by car from Wuhan.
The 14-year-old was due to return to Western Australia on 11 February but Hubei province, the original epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, was sealed off from the outside world in late January under a state-imposed lockdown to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus.
She told SBS News of her excitement to finally be back home this week.
"I couldn't be happier, it's really cool because it's completely different to just video chatting with someone," she said.
"It's just having that real-life connection, it's so much better."
The teenager missed out on two federal government arranged evacuation flights in February because she was a minor and did not have an Australian adult who could accompany her back. Her grandparents are both Chinese citizens and the rest of her family are in Australia.
She flew into Sydney on Wednesday to reunite with her mother Anna, but the pair were told by a police officer at the airport that they shouldn't hug due to social distancing measures. They then flew on to Perth together.
Despite travel restrictions easing in Hubei province easing in late March, Anna said they encountered other challenges in their attempts to bring Jessica home.
"It was a combination of all the uncertainty, to travel from where she was in China back home, every city had different rules and because she was under 18, many authorities did not know what the advice was when we rang them up, they just kept referring us from one department to the other," she said.
"So we felt there was an element of risk and it took the family a while to decide to make the decision and go with it."
Anna said because Jessica is an unaccompanied minor who was being picked up by a parent or guardian at the airport, she is exempted from having to go to a mandatory quarantine facility but is required to self-quarantine at home.
"Once she was released to my custody, we flew from Sydney to Perth and then according to WA authorities, we are required to quarantine at home for the next 14 days which is what we are doing now.
"It's been a difficult process, there's been a lot of frustration and confusion, not just for Jess and I, but also for my husband and two other kids."
Jessica had been concerned she wouldn't be able to make it back home.
"I was scared they wouldn't let me on the plane and I wouldn't be able to come back and I just have to wait all over again," she said.
"It just seemed too good to be true that I was finally coming home because everything was just going wrong in the past six months."
For Jessica, months on end in isolation has been difficult, so she sought refuge in painting.
"Art is sort of therapeutic for me. Whenever I'm upset or stressed I can just paint and then I'm not stressed anymore," she said.
"I just kept telling myself, 'it may not be soon, but it will be over'."
She also used her art skills to help raise money for a Chinese hospital by illustrating portraits commissioned via social media.
For now though, Jessica said she is just glad to be on home soil and looking forward to enjoying life's simple pleasures.
"This sounds really weird, but in China you can't drink tap water, you have to boil the water every time you drink it, so tap water was the first thing I was looking forward to.
"Of course finally being able to see my family and spending time with my pets [too]!"
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.
Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
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