They have spent weeks in strict lockdown across two continents in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic but Hammad Hanif is just pleased his family could return home safely to Taree.
What was set to be a holiday to Pakistan to celebrate the birth of daughter Samina quickly turned into a period of uncertainty due to the ongoing pandemic.
Now settled back in the Manning following a fortnight in quarantine in Sydney, the family has shared their experience.
Hammad, wife Dr Sara Khalid and their children Ayat, Amal and Samina Hammad left Australia on February 9 to spend time with family in Pakistan.
At that stage, the coronavirus hadn't become the global threat it is today.
"At that time, there weren't many COVID-19 cases in Pakistan," Hammad said.
"Luckily Pakistan got hit by the virus a bit later, one of the main reasons for this was not many tourists."
Following an influx of cases, the Pakistan government put the entire country in lockdown on March 10.
Hammad said it was a very strict lockdown. Citizens had just 72 hours to get the supplies they needed.
"They closed the schools, shopping centres, no weddings, functions, sports or games with the stadiums shut down and no public transport," he explained.
"No one could go out of the house, all the streets and stores were shut down.
"Fuel stations were shut down for the first two weeks and you could only order food online."
Hammad said the first two weeks were difficult being stuck indoors.
"We were also worried about how we were going to get back to Australia," Hammad added.
The family kept an eye on affairs down under. Considering the Ruby Princess fiasco, the steady rise in cases and a federal government plea for residents to return home, their concerns reached new heights.
"That's when we started getting worried and knew we had to go back," Hammad said.
Originally scheduled to fly back on April 4, Hammad changed the flights with Emirates to March 23.
They were set to land in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and then take a connecting flight to Sydney.
With their bags packed and farewells made to their extended family, they received heartbreaking news that would derail their plans.
On the night of March 22, the Pakistan government shut down the airports.
"We were so upset at that," Sara said.
"All our bags were packed and we'd said goodbye to all our family members."
"We were having dinner with the TV on and then it came up with breaking news that said Pakistan was shutting down its international airspace," Hammad said.
"Emirates was still operating but because Pakistan wasn't letting planes in or out of the country, we couldn't reach Dubai to reach our connecting flight.
"We were stuck and couldn't fly out."
Hammad soon discovered chartered flights were being sent to the United Kingdom, United States and Canada to get Australians home.
He contacted Australian Home Affairs and the embassy in Pakistan to point out there were about 585 stranded people.
Chartered flights weren't scheduled for Pakistan at the time but Hammad was assured he'd be told if this changed.
"The only answer I could get from them was 'stay where you are, stay safe and follow instructions of the local authorities'," Hammad said.
Hammad had been in contact with others via WhatsApp.
"Some of them didn't have enough money with them because of their work conditions - they going to stay for a week or two and come back," Hammad stressed.
"Some had kids with allergies and others with health issues so they wanted to get back."
Sara, a doctor at Manning Hospital, wanted to get back to Taree and into work as soon as possible.
"She wanted to be at work even though she was on her maternity leave," Hammad said.
They closed the schools, shopping centres, no weddings, functions, sports or games with the stadiums shut down and no public transport.Hammad Hanif
In the next three weeks, Hammad had daily contact with authorities about leaving the country. It was the same answer every time.
He stayed up-to-date with Smart Traveller but still made no progress.
Soon after, Hammad saw a tweet from the Australian ambassador to Pakistan Dr Geoffrey Shaw which said a chartered flight was being sent to Australia to collect Pakistani nationals. Australians in Pakistan could board the flight to return home.
Seats were limited and unfortunately Hammad missed out.
More than one week later, another tweet from Dr Shaw stated there were several Qatar Airways flights to transport people out of Pakistan.
"As soon as I got the tweet on my phone I jumped on my laptop on the website and got the tickets," Hammad said.
Tickets were limited and about triple the normal cost. The one-way flight set the family back more than $10,000.
But the cost didn't matter in the end, they just wanted to get home.
"This is home," Sara said.
"We wanted to be home in Australia where we belong to. Our jobs are here, our house is here, just everything," Hammad said.
"Even though our family is in Pakistan, it's now just a place to go for a holiday.
"We call Australia our home."
They jetted off on April 28 and after taking a connecting flight from Doha (Qatar) they arrived back in Sydney the following day.
They were always conscious of the coronavirus risk.
"If any of the passengers had positive symptoms or the virus, it could have been a disaster for the whole flight," Hammad said.
An earlier flight had passengers who later tested positive for the virus.
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