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Photo diary: After waiting four months to travel home, this UK man shares his journey back

Callum, 34, was only meant to be visiting the French city of Lyon for a week but he has been stranded in France for almost four months.

The software developer from Belfast made the journey across the channel to spend time with his girlfriend, but on the second day of his stay, strict lockdown measures were introduced in France.

As EU borders started progressively closing and with working remotely an option, Callum made the call to stay in France so as not to be separated from his partner.

But this decision meant he was unable to return home for several months — something he could never have imagined just a few weeks earlier.

Now, as lockdown measures are being eased, he’s travelling back to see his friends and family.

Complications

As France started to open up public spaces again, the UK introduced quarantine restrictions for those arriving from abroad, making a trip home impractical for Callum. Upon hearing news that England was to lift these restrictions from the July 10, he purchased tickets for travel the following day, hoping that Northern Ireland would do the same. This didn’t happen until two days before he was meant to travel, which lead to a nervous wait for the software developer.

Prior to the pandemic, it had been possible to fly directly from Lyon to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland and sometimes Belfast in Northern Ireland. With airlines operating on scaled-back schedules, Callum had to take a train from Lyon to Paris CDG Airport, before hopping on a flight to Dublin, followed by a bus to Belfast.

And he's off!

The platform was busy at the railway station in Lyon. Social distancing measures are common on public transport in France, with one passenger being allowed to every two seats. However, on this train, following the instructions on his ticket, Callum had to take a seat next to another passenger. As required by French law, Callum wore a face mask during his time on the train.

The Paperwork

Callum knew that a COVID-19 Public Health Passenger Locator Form was required upon entry to Ireland. Moreover, the airline he was travelling on had communicated passengers may not be allowed to travel if they didn’t have all documentation required by their destination country. Without access to a printer, he decided to write out a version of the form by hand.

In the airport and on the plane

The most unusual thing Callum found about Charles De Gaulle Airport was how quiet it was. It is normally one of the busiest airports in the world, with over 200,000 passengers a day, but it now seemed almost empty and a large number of shops were closed.

When his flight was called for boarding, a queue had formed in front of the gate and each passenger was to have their temperature checked before they were allowed to board.

Passengers were taken from the gate to the plane by bus. There were at least three buses operating for this flight to allow for social distancing, with several seats on each vehicle taped off and markers on the floor showing people where they should stand.

Upon boarding the plane, each passenger was given disinfectant wipes for themselves and their seat. The crew were wearing facemasks and gloves. Just over half the seats on the plane were booked and the airline appeared to given each passenger two seats to themselves where possible, but some people were sat side-by-side. Callum kept his face mask on throughout this stage of the journey too.

In the air, Callum had to fill out another form that was handed out by the cabin crew. It was double-sided, so it could be filled out in French or English and asked for details about the traveller's flight, where they were sitting and contact information.

"It seems likely to me that this would be to enable contact tracing should there have been a person reporting an infection on the plane, though the forms weren’t collected at Dublin airport," Callum said.

Almost home

Upon landing, Callum also found Dublin airport to be extremely quiet. Other than the addition of floor markings and hand sanitiser, which have become common-place in most public spaces, things in the airport seemed otherwise unchanged.

Printed versions of the form he needed were available to fill out in the airport after all, with several stands displaying stacks of blank copies ahead of border control.

Callum handed his form to the border control officer and had to remove his face mask briefly for an identity check.

Social distancing was well observed on the bus to Belfast, with one seat in every assigned. Wearing masks was also mandatory throughout the trip.

Home at last

The streets of Belfast seemed surreal as Callum walked through them for the first time since the start of lockdown.

He arrived home on a Saturday evening and despite the fact that bars and restaurants had recently been allowed to reopen, some were still closed and the streets almost empty.

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