Grieving mother’s hotel quarantine despair
MARCUS DiFonzo would have turned 34 yesterday.
Instead, as his devastated mother Ellen Smail says, he'll be "forever 33" after he was allegedly killed by a drunk driver in the United States on July 11.
Ms Smail has endured four months of hell, her grief compounded as she spent the day alone in a Gladstone motel room, four days into 14 days of mandatory quarantine after she took her son's ashes on an emotional pilgrimage to family in Portland, Victoria.
She says confusion around her application for an exemption to quarantine on her 25-acre Gladstone property added to her angst.
She applied on October 1 for the exemption, which was supported by her psychologist.
The day before she was to fly from Melbourne to Brisbane she was told her application had been denied.
In transit, she received an email advising that her request had been reviewed and she could travel to Gladstone to complete hotel quarantine there.
She then boarded a plane, wearing personal protective equipment, for the final leg of her journey.
She was greeted at the Gladstone Airport by police officers, who escorted her to the designated motel where, she claims, staff were not expecting her.
Ms Smail said she could not understand, if she was not allowed to quarantine at home, why she was allowed to leave Brisbane.
"My greatest concern is what I was able to do," she said.
"At that stage, I didn't know if I had COVID or not.
"I was left to my own devices in Brisbane Airport for 90 minutes and then I was allowed to board a plane with 54 other passengers.
"They let me do all that and then they lock me up in a motel in Gladstone, 10 minutes from my own home."
Ms Smail tested negative for COVID this week.
A Queensland Health spokesperson said the border restrictions and quarantine requirements were only in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
"We understand our COVID-19 prevention measures can be difficult for many, but every restriction we have in place is designed to keep Queensland safe and save lives," they said.
It is understood a further exemption request from Ms Smail is currently being assessed.
During her time in quarantine, Ms Smail has been fielding calls from a prosecutor in Michigan regarding the preliminary court case into Marcus's death.
She battled a mountain of COVID-related red tape just to get her son home.
It took 24 days.
She and her daughter, who also lives in Gladstone, were the only family at his cremation.
Ms Smail decided, as restrictions eased in Victoria, that she would go to visit family and friends there this month.
"I needed to do that, my parents needed it and my brothers needed it - it's their grandson and their nephew," she said.
"I'm a mother who is trying to grieve.
"It's 104 days since Marcus died and I still can't have his memorial service.
"That's the only decision I've been able to make as a mother is I refuse to have his memorial with just 10 people; that's not even our immediate family.
"I feel like everything else has been taken from me."