‘COVID-19 like 9/11’: Aussies not coming home from New York
For 10 weeks now, New York City has been one of the world's worst epicentres for the coronavirus pandemic that has brought the city that never sleeps to a grinding halt.
To date, there have been almost 200,000 confirmed cases in New York City and more than 21,000 have died.
The pandemic has seen thousands of New Yorkers flee the city and hundreds of Australians pack up and leave on rescue flights.
It is estimated that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, around 50,000 Australians could be living and visiting New York at any given time.
Recent data published by The New York Times revealed about five per cent of the city emptied out between March 1 and May 1, which is around 420,000 people.
Data from the US Postal Service also saw 81,000 mail-forwarding requests from the Big Apple, which is double the amount from last year.
As more Australians are heading home on scheduled Qantas and Virgin Australia flights from now until June, many have chosen to stay.
Cue Law&Order music ... these are their stories.
'I WANT TO SAY I WAS HERE ... LIKE 9/11'
Caitlin Ramrakha, 29, moved to New York in 2018 after living in San Francisco for four years.
The former Sydneysider works as a product marketing manager for Spotify and lives alone in a 300 square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
"I definitely did not choose this space based on the fact that I thought I'd have to spend a lot of time here," she laughs.
Ramrakha moved to New York for its culture and lively food, music and arts scene.
To stave off loneliness, she calls her friends.
"One of my colleagues the other day said it was #solo-darity, I love that," she says.
She wants to spend the rest of her life in the US if she can, so while she wants "nothing more than to run into the [Australian] ocean right now," she's determined to stick it out.
"At the end of this I want to be able to say I was here, kind of like the New Yorkers who were here for September 11," she says.
"I guess it's almost going to be a bit of a badge of honour, like, I stuck it out in my tiny little apartment and clapped for the health workers every night at 7pm. I kind of like the camaraderie of that."
'I RATIONALISE IT IN MY OWN HEAD'
Jake Walsh, from Carlton, Melbourne, arrived in the US to take up a job at a sports betting company in January.
He'd been living in Boston but moved to NYC in March, just as coronavirus hit.
"I started to feel symptoms around March 2 - March 3," Walsh, 29, recalls.
"I said to the doctor, 'Do you think I have it?' and he basically laughed at me and said, 'There have been no confirmed cases here yet,' but that's because they weren't testing anyone then."
He describes having a fever and "really bad aches" for two to three days, plus a chesty cough for 10 days.
In early April, he participated in an antibody trial.
"I guess we all have a role to play in this and I'd do anything to end this situation so it just felt like a really intuitive thing to do," he says.
He tested positive for having the coronavirus antibody, after recovering from COVID-19 and his plasma was taken to be given to critically ill patients.
Walsh lives alone in the Flatiron district in Manhattan but one of his best mates and his cousin are there.
His work is stable and earning good US dollars is another incentive to stay.
"I just rationalise in my own head that I moved here for work and not for a holiday," he says.
'US WILL BE NOWHERE NEAR AUSTRALIA'
Queenslanders Wayne Patterson, 33, and his wife Laura Craig, 32, were in Australia in March, just as coronavirus emerged in the US.
They decided to head back to New York and try to keep their current jobs.
"We want to give ourselves the best job security that we can," Patterson says, while admitting that their "pretty shit" health insurance is a worry should either of them get sick.
Patterson, the primary visa holder, works in marketing for an assisted stretching company, while Craig works at a money management firm.
The couple got married in New York last year and while Patterson describes them as "the opposite of homebodies", quarantining in their Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment "hasn't been too bad".
"We get to hang out together like, all day," he says.
"That's really nice. It's a good trade off.
"I can't see how the US will get anywhere close to the position Australia is in during 2020."
'I DON'T MEAN TO SOUND HEROIC'
Shelley Wilcox of Adelaide was ordered on modified bed rest by her doctor when lockdown started, until she's due to give birth to twins on July 16.
Knowing the rest of the world is also housebound makes being stuck in her Long Island City apartment slightly more bearable.
She thinks about moving back to Australia or to England or Canada "every day" with her husband Gerard.
She misses the sound of birds chirping, "particularly the magpie warble in the morning," she says.
"We just don't hear any where we live."
Work considerations and the bed rest means the couple, both 37, can't go anywhere, however, although they plan to move to calmer, more spacious Westchester or Connecticut with the babies.
"To have twins in New York City without a car and without support is one thing, but trying to do it during a pandemic is a totally different ballgame," she says.
Faced with no alternative, "it's just about getting on with it," she adds. "I don't mean to sound heroic or anything," she says.
"It's just the way it is."
'FEAR IS A CONSTANT FOR ALL'
Connor Delves had big plans in New York this year with staging the first Australian Theatre Festival, which he co-founded.
Now, the Perth-born actor, 24, is still planning to host it later in the year.
He has been in New York on an artist visa for six years now and currently lives alone in Morningside Heights, near Harlem.
Delves has pivoted to online work while theatre is not an option.
He also suspects he's already had the coronavirus. After going to two large gatherings just before lockdown, he says "six days later, I lost my smell and taste and my body was aching and I had headaches".
A doctor prescribed him hydroxychloroquine over the phone.
"It definitely helped, three days after that I was feeling better," he says.
Staying in New York doesn't faze him, but "fear is a constant for all right now," he says.
He misses the relaxed energy of the outdoors in Australia.
"Even in the parks and by the river [in New York] there isn't that sense of nature that we have back home," he says.
Originally published as 'COVID-19 like 9/11': The Aussies not coming home from New York